If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related condition who resides in a nursing home or memory care facility, you’re likely always worried about their well-being. Even the best facilities are short-handed at times. A person with dementia only needs a few minutes unattended to wander someplace they shouldn’t be, suffer a fall or otherwise become injured.
Seniors who suffer from dementia are also at increased risk of abuse or neglect. Because they may have short-term memory loss, hallucinations or trouble distinguishing between the distant and recent past, they can be easy prey for physical, sexual, emotional and even financial abuse – even in a setting that’s supposed to provide care and safety.
Abusers count on the fact that they won’t remember or understand what happened. Even if they do, they may not be believed – even by loved ones. They may say they were struck or pushed down, while a nurse or other staff member might insist that they fell. They may say they haven’t eaten in days, while staffers insist that they’ve gotten all their meals.
Signs of abuse to watch for
So how do you know if a loved one with dementia is being intentionally abused or even unintentionally neglected if you can’t trust what they tell you (or if they don’t tell you)?
Physical injuries should always be cause for concern – even if they’re relatively minor like bruises and cuts. Even if they are injuring themselves, they clearly aren’t being watched as carefully as they should be. The location of the injuries may point to abuse. Bruises around their wrists or ankles could suggest that they’ve been restrained. Bruises on their thighs could suggest sexual abuse. If you see those, look for torn or bloody underwear.
Emotional and verbal abuse can be more difficult to confirm. So can some types of sexual abuse. Even though a person with dementia can have unpredictable mood swings, don’t assume that troubling behavior is a result of their condition. Take note if your loved one becomes more agitated or withdrawn – particularly when certain staff members are present. You should also be concerned if a caregiver doesn’t want to leave you alone with your loved one.
If a loved one has potentially suffered harm due to abuse or negligence in a care facility, it’s wise to get legal guidance to determine your options for justice and compensation, even if you cannot yet confirm what is going on definitively. Lawyers understand how to discreetly uncover the truth, whatever it may be.