Today’s guest post is from Susan Price from the Nursing Home Abuse Center. Elder abuse is a 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 are:
- 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:
Any type of abuse has a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of the person being abused. Individuals who suffer elder abuse have a 300% higher chance of death compared to individuals who have never been abused.
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%
Older individuals who suffer abuse or neglect also experience a diminished quality of life. Abuse and neglect often contribute to the 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.
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 well-being 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
- Genital injuries
- 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
- The 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 with 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 are the priority. If you believe that he or she is in danger, remove them from the situation until a legal 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.