World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is recognized every year on June 15. Persons who have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia are especially vulnerable to mistreatment. It is estimated that about 4% of older adults experience abuse; but according to one caregiver survey, cited by the National Center on Elder Abuse, 47.3% of persons with dementia experienced abuse or neglect by family, with most of the mistreatment (60%) being verbal. In another U.S. study, 20% of caregivers reported they were worried they may become physically abusive.
Elder abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, neglect, or financial. Persons who have dementia are also vulnerable to self-neglect – being unable to take care of their own needs.
Financial exploitation and self-neglect are two forms that are especially common in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Financial exploitation is not always easy to recognize and can go undetected. Self-neglect is another serious concern. A key hallmark of dementia is the loss of good reasoning and judgment. Everyone has the right to live as eccentrically as they wish, but this is different. When someone who would normally bathe regularly, change clothes daily, and attend to his or her healthcare needs begins to let all that go and even make financial or physical choices that are dangerous, we need to suspect a loss of the capacity to take care of his or her needs. The person may be able to continue to live independently, but need support in decision making and care.
There are organizations in the community that can provide supports to help prevent abuse and neglect. Adult day centers, such as MemoryLane Care Services, home health care, and respite stays in nursing homes and assisted living can all help. The Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio is a good source of information.
If you suspect someone is being abused or self-neglecting, you can call your county Job & Family Services (in Michigan, called the Department of Health and Human Services), and ask for the Adult Protection Unit, who by law will investigate your concerns.
Living with dementia and caring for someone who has dementia is challenging enough without the burden of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. We can make a difference by being aware and taking action.