About 20% of nursing home residents experience mistreatment from a fellow resident in a given month, according to findings announced Thursday by Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell University.

Resident-on-resident mistreatment is common and underreported, and nursing home workers need to recognize the “acute urgency” of the problem, stated investigator Karl Pillemer, Ph.D.

Cursing, screaming and yelling was the most common type of mistreatment, involved in 16% of incidents during the four-week study period. Unwanted room entry or going through another resident’s possessions was the second most common, at 10.5%. Physical assaults and attempts to gain sexual favors also were recorded.

“People who typically engage in resident-on-resident abuse are somewhat cognitively disabled but physically capable of moving around the facility,” Pillemer stated. “Often, their underlying dementia or mood disorder can manifest as verbally or physically aggressive behavior.”

Caregivers should be trained in how to recognize and report resident-on-resident mistreatment, as well as how to reduce these types of incidents, Pillemer and his colleagues urged.

The findings are based on a nationally representative sample of skilled nursing facilities in New York state. The investigators conducted staff interviews, did direct observation, and distributed a questionnaire to residents and staff.

Findings were announced Thursday at the 2014 Gerontological Society of America Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C. The study authors will present the full results at a symposium Saturday.