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Alzheimer’s Abuse in Nursing Homes

alzheimer's abuse

Nursing home abuse is disturbing on its own.  When the victim suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, this exploitation is heartbreaking.  A 2010 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that nearly 50 percent of Alzheimer’s patients experience nursing home abuse or neglect.

Residents with Alzheimer’s Are Easy Targets for Perpetrators

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.  This is a progressive, incurable brain disorder that destroys memory, intellectual, social and other mental functions.  Nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s are more likely to be abused or neglected for the following reasons:

  • They might not remember the incident.
  • They may fear retaliation from the caregiver.
  • Their report might not be believed.
  • They may not be able to speak if they are in the advanced stages of the disease.

Alzheimer’s Symptoms Help Cover Abusive Action

Alzheimer’s symptoms include personality changes such as irritability, aggression, paranoia and delusions.  It is easy to understand how a perpetrator can shift accusations of abuse onto the disease.

Recognizing the Signs of Abuse and Neglect

Because Alzheimer’s patients are more at risk for abuse, it is important to know the warning signs of elder abuse and neglect.

Signs of physical abuse and neglect may include:

  • Unexplained or frequent bumps and bruises
  • Abrupt weight loss
  • Bedrail or restraint injuries or bruises
  • Unwashed hair, body or clothes
  • Fractures or concussions
  • Bedsores

Emotional and Financial Abuse Leaves Little Evidence

Physical abuse usually leaves the victim with bruises, bumps, fractures or other evidence of harm.  Emotional and financial abuse is harder to detect.  The nature of Alzheimer’s makes it difficult to determine the facts of potential endangerment.  Furthermore, many symptoms of emotional abuse are similar to typical indicators of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

When in doubt, listen to your instincts.  If you believe something is wrong, there probably is reason to investigate.

Signs of Emotional Abuse in an Alzheimer’s Patient

Emotional abuse is intentional and may include verbal abuse, threats, harassment, humiliation and/or intimidation.  The warning signs of emotional abuse in an Alzheimer’s patient usually include:

  • Unexplained depression or anxiety
  • Sudden withdrawal from normal activities
  • Fearful or cowering behavior in front of caregiver
  • Signs of agitation such as rocking back and forth, sucking thumbs, or muttering to themselves
  • Changes in sleeping or eating
  • Intense alertness to noises and other stimuli
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Violence toward others or self

Family members and friends should be on the lookout for threatening or demeaning language or actions by nursing home staff.  Another warning sign is a nursing home or caregiver who will not allow you to visit with your loved one alone.

Indicators of Financial Abuse

Dishonest caregivers know that nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s disease have trouble remembering and reasoning.  They count on this faulty memory if they want to cheat or steal.  It is recommended that Alzheimer’s patients have a family member, attorney or other trusted individual to look after their finances and handle monthly bills.  The warning signs of financial abuse might include:

  • Missing cash, jewelry, electronics, antiques, or other valuables
  • Unexplained cash or ATM withdrawals
  • Suspicious credit card purchases
  • Evidence of unpaid or overdue bills
  • Refusal to supply care without extra payment

Some abusive caregivers try to have themselves added to the resident’s will.  All legal paperwork such as wills and trusts should be in order before the disease progresses. 

If your loved one has been tricked into changing his or her will, you should not hesitate to consult a nursing home abuse lawyer.  A lawyer can tell you if such alterations or additions are legal given your loved one’s state of mind.

Nursing Home Abuse Is a Problem Nationwide

More than 50 percent of nursing home staff admitted to abusing or neglecting residents, according to a 2010 study published in Nursing Management.  Any kind of intentional or neglectful actions that harm seniors – physical, sexual, emotional, or financial – is a violation of state and federal laws.

When Do You Take Action?

If you suspect that a loved one with Alzheimer’s is being abused or neglected, you must protect them.  This includes reporting the incident to the facility administrator, your local agency on elder affairs, and law enforcement if the situation is immediate and life-threatening.  It is better to err on the side of caution, particularly because the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can make it difficult to spot abuse.

Understanding the Basics of Alzheimer’s Disease

According to the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect at the University of California, Irvine, there are 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, the majority of whom are over age 65.  Most medical experts believe that Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors.  The disease targets and kills brain cells.  As more brain cells disappear, the person loses more mental and physical abilities until they succumb to the illness.

Nursing Homes that Cater to Alzheimer’s Patients

Specially designed long-term care facilities are now more available to seniors with Alzheimer’s.  These memory care units are supposed to offer trained nurses and aides who understand the unique challenges of the disease.  If you are looking for an Alzheimer’s nursing facility for a loved one, here are some helpful hints:

  • Personal references are certainly the most reliable.  Ask a friend or co-worker for a personal recommendation of a nursing home.
  • Visit your state’s elder affairs agency website for a facility listing.  You have the right to know about any violations or incidents.
  • Check with a nursing home abuse law firm.  Their focus on elder law makes them a valuable source of information.

If you would like a free, no-obligation consultation with a nursing home abuse lawyer, please call Nursing Home Abuse Center at 1-866-548-9636.