Finland's National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) reported that eight out of ten staff in the country's elderly care service are subject to violence from their patients. Sick leaves taken due to "work-related accidents" have reportedly risen steadily since 2005, a problem that often flies under the authorities' radar.
The report cites numerous testimonies from nurses being bitten, hit and spat at by elderly patients, many of whom suffer from memory disorders.
"It would be easier to respond to the situation once there was a reason for the violence, but there appears none that we have found," THL research chief Timo Sinervo told Finnish national broadcaster Yle commenting on the dire situation.
In addition to highlighting the prevalence of violent patients with memory disorders, the report also indicated, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that home care patients are likely to behave more violently in comparison to institutionalized seniors. Sinervo attributed this to the policy of keeping retirees in their homes for as long as possible.
Meanwhile, the aggression nurses face on a regular basis is a topic they seldom talk about at home, let alone discuss in the public due to the obligations to observe silence or a fear of social stigma.
"It is an occupational issue and we are duty-bound to secrecy," an anonymous nurse interviewed by Yle said.
While employers urge nurses to always inform their superiors of aggression or threats of violence, only the most heinous attacks end up being reported, according to the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy).
Tehy working environment expert Kaija Ojanperä ventured that many nurses fail to report aggression because they are either used to this sort of behavior or don't believe it would make any difference. Yet another problem is that nurses do not receive any compensation for the injuries sustained. This only applies to mental health workers, and then only when faced with violence or threats of attack.
At present, an estimated 193,000 people in Finland have conditions that include memory loss. Furthermore, statistics predict the percentage of people over 65 in Finland will rise from 20 percent now, to 30 percent by 2050, a nation of 5.5 million.