Nearly every American family has been touched in some way by dementia, especially in its most common form of Alzheimer’s Disease. It cuts across every social and economic demographic, and currently affects more than five million Americans. What you may not know, however, is that dementia is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and has no known cure.
Unfortunately, recent research has revealed that there is an unsettling correlation between dementia and elder abuse. Elder abuse is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.'' It can include physical, emotional, or sexual harm, along with neglect and financial exploitation.
Similar to other types of abuse, victims may become confused, terrified and even embarrassed of the crime perpetrated against them. Seniors especially may often fear retaliation, either in the form of physical abuse, neglect, or isolation. This may cause them to attempt to keep their abusers from getting in trouble, which can be a particular problem when family members behave abusively.
Reports now show that there is an increased correlation between dementia and elder abuse. A few of the reasons why are that seniors with dementia are vulnerable because of impaired memory, communication skills, and judgment. They are also less likely to report abuse, and might not even be aware that abuse is happening. According to the University of California, Irvine Center on Elder Abuse and Neglect, nearly one in two aging adults with dementia has experienced some type of abuse.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to stop this cycle. It is important to know what to be on the lookout for when it comes to your loved ones. Let us present a few of the steps we share with our friends, family, and community on this critical topic.
1. Know Your Rights. Every state has resources to help stop elder abuse and our state is no exception. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website, “ Elder Abuse reports can be filed 24 hours a day either online or by phone at (800) 922-2275”. We encourage you to learn more on this website or ask us for more information, especially if you are concerned that an elder loved one with dementia is suffering from abuse.
2. Recognize the Warning Signs. Unexplained injuries, bedsores, malnutrition, and dehydration are just a few of the telltale signs. Others may include suspicious caregiver behavior, and sudden adverse changes to an older person’s financial resources.
3. Report, Report, Report. One of the most effective ways to combat elder abuse is to report it to agencies and authorities who can do something about it. Studies routinely show that elder abuse is chronically under-reported. Again, check out the website we referenced above for more information.
4. Durable Power of Attorney. A durable power of attorney creates the legal authority for a trusted family member or confidant to act on a senior’s behalf, it can even work when the senior is unable to make his or her decisions. This legal document needs to be obtained proactively and an experienced estate planning attorney can help you craft one that is right for your specific situation.
We encourage you to ask us your questions. Whether you are concerned about how to manage a dementia diagnosis or are worried about the potential of elder abuse in the future, we want to help answer your questions. For more information on protecting yourself or a family member, attend a free, informational seminar.