Stop Increase in Abuse of the Elderly by Nursing Care Facility Employees

The abuse of elderly people in need of nursing care shows no sign of decline. Stopping the increase in abuse cases at nursing care facilities is an urgent task.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has announced that the number of cases in which elderly people were abused by employees at nursing care facilities amounted to 644 in fiscal 2019. The figure, which is the number of abuses recognized by local governments after being alerted to suspected cases, was yet another record high for the 13th year in a row.

The ministry said four people died due to such abuse. This situation cannot be overlooked.

Physical abuse, such as beatings, accounted for 60% of all the cases. Instances of psychological abuse, such as insulting the elderly in front of others by mentioning their failure in excretory functions, and abandoning their nursing care by not giving them enough food or other such actions, are also conspicuous.

Many recipients of nursing care and their families may be increasingly concerned about the high frequency of abuse at such facilities, which should provide specialized care. Facility managers bear a heavy responsibility because abuse undermines the dignity of the elderly and threatens their safety.

This could even shake public trust in the nursing care insurance system. The central and local governments should take the issue seriously.

In a survey conducted by the ministry, problems related to the education, knowledge and nursing skills of facility staff were perceived to be a factor behind nearly 60% of the abuse cases.

Some users of nursing care facilities have difficulty communicating due to dementia or other problems. Facility staff need to accumulate experience and knowledge, but they are said to lack sufficient training opportunities.

The ministry is considering making it mandatory for facility operators to provide their employees with training by reviewing the operational criteria based on the Long-Term Care Insurance Law. It is hoped that the ministry will make efforts to establish a system that will enable highly workable training with cooperation from prefectural governments.

Some workplaces cannot afford to train their employees as they are seriously understaffed. It is necessary to improve the working conditions of employees and operational efficiency through the use of information technology and other means.

It is important for facility operators to identify problems between elderly people and staff members, such as by conducting regular surveys, and to create an environment in which workers can easily consult with them on any issues they are having. Such measures could also provide mental support for employees busy with coronavirus countermeasures.

On the other hand, the number of cases in which elderly people were abused by family members or others close to them was 16,928, the third-highest figure on record, according to the ministry.

Since last year, some senior citizens have refrained from using nursing care services due to the pandemic. It is concerning that the increased burden on family members could lead to abuse.

There are also many people who take care of family members by themselves and have no one to consult with. Local governments are urged to check whether sufficient attention is being given to elderly people and their caregivers by closely working together with social welfare councils and local welfare workers, among other entities and people. Efforts to prevent households involved in nursing care from becoming isolated are crucial.