Many elderly residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities experience varying forms of dementia as they age. Dementia is defined as a loss of cognitive ability that is more severe than average aging. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia seen in elderly individuals. While some forms of dementia are sudden and do not worsen, as in cases of brain injuries, Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that will get progressively worse over time. Unfortunately, residents in these facilities with dementia sometimes experience abuse and neglect as a result of their disease.
Why do these diseases make elderly residents more susceptible to nursing home abuse and neglect?
- Sometimes, residents with Alzheimer’s or other types dementia can wander or “elope” if left unsupervised. Once outside the facility, the resident can quickly become confused or disoriented, and face serious injury or death. Nursing home managers are aware of the risks to residents and have a duty to protect them from harm, especially those residents with dementia. It is critical, and required by law, that these facilities have a strategy in place to prevent and protect residents from elopement.
- Another factor that makes residents with dementia more susceptible to abuse/neglect can be the overuse of medications by care providers. Often patients that display only slight symptoms of dementia are overprescribed antipsychotic medications, even before a full diagnosis has been made. Psychiatric medications for dementia are beneficial to those truly suffering, but when they are used unnecessarily, the possibility of risk increases dramatically. Research on abuse has found that this is more likely in care facilities that are understaffed, and/or overwhelmed by residents.
- Other times, many residents with dementia are frequently a target of abusive aggressors because of their inability to communicate or loss of memory. Many elder residents with dementia suffering from abuse may not remember the abuse happening, or may only remember frightful feelings associated with the abuse. As a result, many of these abuse cases go unnoticed or unreported.
Many nursing homes and long-term care facilities are doing admirable work caring for elderly residents with dementia, and there are many that are not. But in many cases, neglect, mistreatment or abuse of these residents is truly unintentional. In some facilities, unstrained staff members may be forced to perform work beyond their capabilities or they lack the special skills required to care for these high-need residents. However, it is important to remember that while this may be unintentional, it is never acceptable.
Signs that a resident with dementia may be experiencing abuse:
- Significantly reduced ability to communicate;
- Rapidly developing health problems that the resident did not previously have;
- Symptoms of being fearful when care is provided;
- Mood swings or changes in behavior such as aggression or agitation; and
- Sudden rapid development of the Alzheimer’s disease itself.