Abuse of Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease

When you have suspicions that your loved one is being abused, confusion and anger quickly set it. Is she being abused? How do I find out for sure? What do I do about it? How can I hold the abuser responsible? If your spouse or parent suffers from Alzheimer’s and you think he or she is being abused in the care center or by another caregiver, know that there is help. There are various elder abuse resources, law enforcement and legal professionals like us available to help you take action and stop the abuse.

How common is the problem?

There are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in America, and that figure is expected to grow exponentially, reaching 16 million by the year 2050, according to the Center for Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect (CEEAN) at the University of California. The CEEAN reviewed numerous research studies about Alzheimer’s and published their findings in a fact sheet, How at Risk for Abuse Are People with Dementia? Abuse is far more common that most would think – alarmingly and disturbingly so. Below are some of the organization’s findings.

  • An estimated 20 percent of caregivers reported being worried that they might become violent toward the people with dementia for whom they cared.
  • Up to 62 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease are abused by their caregivers.
  • Sixty percent of Alzheimer’s patients are verbally abused; up to 10 percent are physically abused; and 14 percent are neglected.

The CEEAN also found that abusers often have many of the same characteristics. Anxiety, symptoms of depression, a perceived burden, and the caregiver’s emotional status are all characteristics and behaviors that might indicate elder mistreatment, and so are any outward expressions of psychological aggression and physical assault behaviors.

Meeting the Needs of Alzheimer’s Patients

Alzheimer special care units are specialized types of facilities that are designed to meet the specific needs of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. These units are sometimes part of the larger residential care facility, such as a floor or a wing of a nursing home. It goes without saying that if you entrust your loved one’s care to an Alzheimer’s care center, you should be able to feel confident that his or her needs will be provided and that he or she will be safe. Should your loved one suffer harm or die because of the care center’s abuse or neglect, you have the legal right to hold the center liable for the harm they’ve caused. Alzheimer’s patients require a good deal of constant care and supervision. They are highly susceptible to abuse because they are very vulnerable and generally unable to articulate and report mistreatment. Harm can come to a patient at a care center either unintentionally (neglect) or intentionally (abuse). Both are unlawful and can result in criminal and civil actions.

Types of Alzheimer’s Care Center Abuse

Elder abuse in care centers is far too commonplace. Up to 62 percent of patients with Alzheimer’s are abused by their caregivers, reports the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect. In recent years, a family filed a lawsuit in Longview after a woman froze to death in the courtyard of the Alzheimer’s care facility where she was a resident. The center told the family the woman suffered a heart attack, but the family said she had been “healthy as a horse,” save dementia. They later learned from the coroner that the actual cause of death was hypothermia. Apparently, the doors to the courtyard of the care center were open and accessible to the Alzheimer’s wing. It was 28 degrees when the victim wandered outside. The victim’s husband commented, “That’s why we pay $5,000 a month — for them to look after her.” Abuse and neglect come in many forms. Other examples of types of abuse that have warranted liability lawsuits against Alzheimer’s care centers include the following.

  • Physical abuse, e.g., slapping, pinching, squeezing, or otherwise assaulting, and causing physical pain or injury
  • Emotional abuse, including verbal assaults, threats of harm and intimidation
  • Neglect, such as failing to watch over, failing to help with hygiene, etc.
  • Over- or under-medicating
  • Sexual abuse
  • Purposefully depriving a patient of care, treatment, food or physical assistance
  • Confining, restraining or isolating the patient for malicious purposes
  • Identify theft and financial exploitation

Spotting Signs of Abuse

Alzheimer’s patients often lack the cognitive and verbal abilities to express what’s happening to them. “People with dementia are especially vulnerable because the disease may prevent them from reporting the abuse or recognizing it. They also may fall prey to strangers who take advantage of their cognitive impairment,” explains the Alzheimer’s Association. Below are some of a few signs that an elder is being abused.

  • Withdrawal from people or activities
  • Intimidation, nervousness or fearfulness, particularly around their caregiver
  • Bruises, cuts, burns or other unexplained marks on the body
  • Depression
  • Change in alertness
  • Bedsores, poor hygiene and unexplained weight loss
  • Belittling comments, embarrassment, humiliation or threats
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Strained relationship between the patient and caregiver

When your loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s no longer is able to live on his or her own, your family will need to decide which type of facility might meet your loved one’s needs. Options include retirement housing, assisted living, nursing homes and Alzheimer’s special care units (also called memory care units).

Taking Legal Action & Protecting Your Loved One

While the presence of one of the above signs doesn’t necessarily confirm abuse, if you notice several indicators or if your instinct tells you something is wrong, report the situation to authorities. Your loved one’s well-being and very life could be at stake. It’s vital for all concerned people to protect the aged. If you feel your loved one is in danger, do not hesitate to contact law enforcement. You also can report the abuse to the Alzheimer’s Association at 800-272-3900 or the local adult protective services division at 800-677-1116. Keep in mind that you don’t need to prove abuse to report it – it is up to the professionals to investigate reported suspicions. On the civil side of Alzheimer’s abuse, as a spouse or a child of a victim of elder abuse, you should be aware that you might qualify to file an injury claim or wrongful death claim or lawsuit against the abuser or the facility. By taking civil action, you can recover damages such as medical bills, counseling, and pain and suffering. Plus, although holding the wrongdoer liable in court won’t undo the harm your loved one has suffered, it will hold the abuser publically accountable for his or her actions and perhaps give your family a sense of justice and closure. For a free consultation with Alzheimer’s patient elder abuse lawyer in Washington, contact Ron Meyers & Associates PLLC today at 844-920-2438.

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