For many people who care for aging parents, one solution is a safe, responsible nursing home. But an increasingly common means of ensuring that safety security cameras installed by relative may do more harm than good; says Clara Berridge, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington.

Responsible nursing home

With reports of crimes against nursing home residents gaining media attention around the country, it’s understandable that families would want to protect their loved one and attempt to establish accountability for care; Berridge said. But in articles published late last winter in AJOB Empirical Bioethics and Elder Law Journal; Berridge outlines the list of legal and moral issues that surveillance raises.

“The use of cameras in resident rooms is so common that some states have passed laws to help families and facilities navigate the legal issues. But it’s not just a gray zone for law. Lots of ethical issues are at play; and it raises the question of privacy’s role in our lives.” At least 10% of Americans ages 60 and older are believed to have been the victim of some form of elder abuse; whether physical, sexual or psychological, or in the form of financial mismanagement or a deprivation of resources such as food or medication.

Financial mismanagement

(Cases are believed to be underreported, making the 10% figure a low estimate.) While most abuse is committed by relatives, the high-profile nature of crimes against nursing home residents by facility staff can alarm anyone whose loved one is in residential care. This is especially true for families of people with forms of dementia; because those residents are less likely to be able to accurately report abuse.

So far, seven states; including Washington, have passed laws allowing placement of surveillance cameras in the rooms of nursing home residents. In the Elder Law Journal article; Berridge and her co-authors analyze each state’s law and conclude that for each law; privacy concerns remain.

Gerontology and Healthcare

For the study published in AJOB Empirical Bioethics; Berridge distributed an online survey through the Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research at Brown University to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. More than 270 facilities from 39 states responded to the anonymous survey; which included specific and open-ended questions about policies and use of surveillance cameras. Of the caregiving facilities that responded; some 11% had initiated use of cameras on their premises.
In this survey, the majority of respondents cited privacy and dignity of residents as key disadvantages to cameras. By their very nature, surveillance cameras record all of the activity in a room, including personal moments such as hygiene or dressing. From a crime-prevention perspective; those are times when a resident is most vulnerable, but from a privacy perspective, the resident may not want such footage to be recorded; let alone viewed.