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Is elder abuse more common among Alzheimer’s patients?

Elder abuse and Alzheimer's

Today’s guest post is from Susan Price from the Nursing Home Abuse Center. Elder abuse is tragic circumstance made more tragic by the fact that it occurs as often as it does. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), estimates suggest that as many as five million elderly Americans suffer some form of elder abuse each year. For Alzheimer’s patients, elder abuse occurs at an even more alarming rate.

There are currently around 5.3 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. Research suggests that nearly half of those (50%) will experience some form of abuse or neglect. Sadly, that number is likely much higher given that only one in every 14 cases of elder abuse are reported.

Why Alzheimer’s patients are vulnerable to abuse

Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable brain disorder occurring primarily in the elderly. The disease is progressive, and affects mental functions that include memory, intellectual and cognitive processing, and even personality.

It is the changes in mental function that make patients with Alzheimer’s more vulnerable to elder abuse. The reasons being:

  • They may not understand what is happening
  • They may not remember what happened shortly after an incident
  • They may be unable to speak or communicate
  • They may live in fear of retaliation from the perpetrator

Sadly, even when patients with Alzheimer’s come forward about abuse, they often are not believed. That’s because Alzheimer’s can cause paranoia and delusions, and patients may also experience confusion between old memories and new ones. These factors sometimes lead to the accused perpetrator shifting blame or writing off accusations.

Unfortunately, in nursing homes, many caregivers and staff also write off signs of elder abuse as being nothing more than a delusion or confusion. This situation is tragic given that they are tasked with providing a high quality of life.

These trusted caregivers should do everything in their power to protect Alzheimer’s patients, not contribute to needless negligence.

What are the most common types of elder abuse among Alzheimer’s patients?

Elder abuse includes an assortment of abuse or neglect that is damaging to the elderly patient. These include:

According to the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect, the three most commonly reported types of elder abuse among Alzheimer’s patients are:

  • Verbal Abuse – 60%
  • Physical Abuse – 5-10%
  • Neglect – 6%

Any type of abuse has a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of the person being abused. Individuals who suffer elder abuse have a 300 percent higher chance of death compared to individuals who have never been abused.

Older individuals who suffer abuse or neglect also experience a diminished quality of life. Abuse and neglect often contributes to development or worsening of medical conditions. Victims also lose their ability to enjoy life and social activities as they once did, and are less independent.

Alzheimer’s patients quote

Elder abuse quote

How to recognize elder abuse or neglect

It can occur at the hands of family members, caregivers, and nursing home staff. Anyone who is concerned about the wellbeing and safety of an elderly parent or another individual should know how to recognize signs of abuse or neglect.  Consider the following:

Physical or Sexual Abuse:

  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, or injuries
  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss
  • Bruises or injuries indicating restraint
  • Poor hygiene
  • Bedsores
  • Genital injuries

Verbal Abuse:

  • Sudden change in mood or behavior
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Fearful behavior around certain individuals
  • Sudden changes in eating or sleeping behaviors
  • Aggressive toward self or others

Financial Exploitation:

  • Sudden disappearance of property
  • Unexplained changes in overall financial status
  • Suspicious purchases or credit card activity
  • Unpaid or overdue payments

Any signs of elder abuse should be reported and investigated. Whether you are a friend, family member, caregiver, or witness, if you notice signs of abuse or neglect, take action immediately. You could save someone’s life.

How to report elder abuse among Alzheimer’s patients

Sometimes the signs are difficult to spot, but other times it is blatant and is a life-threatening emergency. If you suspect that a senior is at the receiving end of abuse or neglect and might be in immediate danger, call 911 to report your concerns.

Depending on your relationship to the individual, you can also report elder abuse by contacting Adult Protective Services (APS) or the local office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman. If you are unsure of what to do, you can contact the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) for options.

If you are a family member, you can have a discussion with caregivers or nursing home staff about your concerns. If you feel like your concerns are not being addressed, or that your loved one is being dismissed, it may be time to contact the corporate office and involve APS.

Your loved one’s health and safety is the priority. If you believe that he or she is in danger, remove them from the situation until an investigation can be completed.

About today’s writer

Susan Price is an ongoing contributor to Nursing Home Abuse Center, covering topics such as caregiving, nursing home abuse, safety, health and wellness, and legal matters.

27 thoughts on “Is elder abuse more common among Alzheimer’s patients?”

  1. This is such an important topic. The best thing that people can do if a friend or loved one is in a nursing home is to visit often and at different times and pay attention. It is sad that elder abuse happens. As some already mentioned, we will all get old one day, and that elder being abused just might (heaven forbid!) be us. I seriously doubt that anyone would want to be in a nursing home. Sometimes there are just no other options.

    1. Sometimes the nursing home is the best option, yes. And they’re not all terrible either; we can’t paint all facilities with the same brush stroke. Thanks Peggy.

  2. This is a very tragic situation that occurs all too often, even here in Australia. Family need to be vigilant for abuse by staff, and staff for abuse by family. Everyone is at risk. So sad.

  3. I find it sad, that elderly people don’t receive the respect, as they should get. They have worked all their life, in one or another way, and helped the economy to be as good as it is today. They deserve respect, Christy.

  4. petespringerauthor

    Thank you for writing about such an important topic, Christy. I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but it is my opinion that Americans (I’m American) don’t treat their elders nearly as well as people from other cultures do. It is incredibly sad that we don’t have a higher regard for the elderly.

    1. petespringerauthor

      Sorry, I didn’t notice that Susan was the author of the piece. Thanks for passing it on, Christy.

    2. Susan provided such a thoughtful post here, Pete, and I know she’ll appreciate your comments. I’m in agreement about respecting our seniors – we have so much to learn from them!

  5. There are good nursing homes out there. My advice: do your research. I visited 17 before placing my mother in one and I am so grateful I spent the time to find the right one. I used to visit frequently unannounced and actually ‘caught’ a caregiver kissing my Mom on the forehead! This is such an important topic.

    1. Actually, Mom passed 2 years ago. Nevertheless, the experience is very fresh in my mind and it’s still a very important topic. Not many of us are well-prepared to deal with our parents’ failing health and the tough decisions to be faced. Thank you for writing about this.

  6. This is so sad, Christy. I can’t understand why a person would chose a career as a carer if they don’t like the work. It is a calling, like teaching or nursing. I suppose some people do it just for the money but I think they should screen people before appointing them to these kinds of positions.

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