Are individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia at a higher risk for abuse?

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elders with dementia are thought to be at a greater risk of abuse and neglect than those of the general elderly population. Elder abuse is one of the most overlooked public health hazards in the United States as noted by reports from the center.

There are various types of abuse. Physical abuse occurs with actions that result in injury or pain (hitting, pinching, shoving, pulling hair, etc) Emotional abuse includes isolation, intimidation, harassment or threats and ridicule. Sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual activity with a person whose capacity to consent or resist is limited. Neglect is abusive in that the caregiver can withhold or not assure the affected individual with the necessary care or other support services. Three types of abuse are most reported in the U.S. by caregivers of individuals with dementia: Verbal abuse, physical abuse and neglect.

The NCEA reports that 60 percent of caregivers had been verbally abusive with the person for whom they were providing care; between 5 and 10 percent of caregivers reported actions that were physically abusive and 14 percent of caregivers reported being neglectful in their care.

Alarmingly, 20 percent of the caregivers expressed fears that they would become violent while caring for the individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is important to recognize signs of abuse, such as bruising or skin discoloration, burns or cuts on the individual’s body, unsanitary surroundings, restricted movement (being locked in), withdrawal, weight loss, use of the individual’s money/resources by another person, withdrawal of money in substantial amounts.

It is everyone’s responsibility to report abuse and neglect. In Louisiana, anyone reporting abuse and neglect is immune from civil and criminal liability if he/she acted in good faith. Adult Protective Services/Elderly Protective Services investigates reports and arranges for service to protect those who are vulnerable and at risk of abuse. Call 1 (800) 898-4910. Additionally, abuse cases involving individuals in licensed settings such as nursing or group homes should be reported to the Department of Health and Hospitals Health Standards Section at 1 (888) 810-1819.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.