Study suggests elderly lack privacy, suffer risk of abuse, in nursing homes

Photo: European Commission

A new study on the elderly in Czech retirement or nursing homes has suggested that some six percent of residents of such homes suffer maltreatment, either at the hands of staff or fellow inhabitants. Conducted by Masaryk University in Brno, Moravia, the study looked at the lives of elderly inhabitants in 16 different facilities, asking about everything from interpersonal situations to the quality of nutrition to day-to-day care.

Photo: European Commission
According to statistics, 3.4 percent of Czechs over the age of 65 live in homes for the elderly and that number is only expected to grow. Under the circumstances, one might expect overall improvement in the quality of services, but that hasn’t always been the case, far from it, one reason why specialists from Brno’s Masaryk University decided to look at the subject more closely. In a survey in late 2007/early 2008 they spoke with more than 500 elderly citizens in nursing homes in four districts in the Czech Republic. Sociologist Lucie Vidovićová presented the results at the office of the government this week:

“We wanted to focus more on possible issues of abuse and care neglect as well as the quality of life in homes as such. We had some qualitative studies from the past but we didn’t have the numbers and we wanted to learn how big certain issues are. One of the biggest themes was ‘privacy’. Questions over privacy and whether privacy was respected in institutions: to be concrete, 13 percent said they cannot meet privately with their friends or outside visitors. Others complained that the staff never knocked on the door before entering their rooms or that they were unable to lock their personal belongings or valuables anywhere. These are ‘little’ issues which are not costly to improve but which – if improved – would contribute greatly to overall quality.”

Along with privacy, the study also looked into the possibility of abuse and neglect by staff at homes but also – and perhaps more so - by fellow inhabitants. In fact, fear of the latter is higher: only 7 said they feared staff, while around 30 of 529 respondents said they feared their flatmates. Lucie Vidovićová again:

“You can imagine that you live your whole life at your home with your family or maybe even alone and then you move into an institution and have to share your room with one or in some cases as many as five others. There is tension and in some cases even aggression. This is something to be solved. The thing is that – according to our results – many of the elderly people wouldn’t even need to be there. Some are there for reasons of loneliness, for financial reasons, others to help younger relatives who don’t have their own homes. These are reasons which should not be ‘solved’ by nursing homes. If we could take care of at least some of these problems through other services there might be less demand for nursing homes.”

The Minister for Human Rights Džamila Stehlíková, who attended the release of the study’s findings in Prague on Tuesday, also made clear that support and care for the elderly in their own homes was a possible solution – preferable to the elderly moving into special institutions. That is a solution she stressed should be considered by municipalities ahead of the construction of new local facilities.