Abuse of Seniors With Dementia
The elderly are among the most vulnerable people in our society not only because their physical health has deteriorated but because many also experience cognitive decline that impairs their ability to live their lives as they once did. Dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, is a group of conditions associated with impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions. It is estimated that about 10% of adults aged 70 and older in the United States suffer some form of dementia. Sadly, nursing home abuse, including elder financial abuse, is a significant risk for individuals who suffer from dementia. If you suspect that someone you care about is the victim of elder abuse, you may want to consider contacting an elder abuse attorney for seniors with dementia.
The Seven Stages of Dementia
Dementia is not a single condition. Rather, it is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that cause sufferers to experience trouble with remembering, reasoning, thinking, and carrying out the tasks of daily living. It also frequently causes changes in sufferers’ personalities, moods, and behavior. Because dementia is a progressive disease that evolves slowly over the course of years, those caring for the elderly should know how to identify its symptoms.
Stage 1: No Impairment
Stage 1 dementia is typically undetectable, as the sufferer experiences no memory problems.
Stage 2: Very Mild Decline
Stage 2 dementia typically looks very much like the normal aging process, with sufferers experiencing very mild memory problems, such as the inability to remember certain words.
Stage 3: Mild Decline
Stage 3 is typically the stage when friends and family members begin to notice impairments. At this stage, forgetfulness becomes more obvious, with the sufferer losing valuable items, forgetting the names of people they just met, and having difficulty retaining new material.
Stage 4: Moderate Decline
Stage 4 is often considered the “mild dementia” or “early dementia” phase. At Stage 4, the patient begins to forget familiar words and names, misplace items more frequently, have trouble managing their finances, commit minor traffic violations, and have trouble with the tasks of everyday life.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe Decline
Stage 5 is often considered mid-stage dementia, wherein the patient will begin to need help handling their day-to-day activities. While they typically still remember their past and recognize friends and family members, they often experience significant confusion. Stage 5 dementia patients may repeat the same questions, have gaps in memory, have trouble choosing their clothing, and experience personality changes and mood swings.
Stage 6: Severe Decline
Patients with Stage 6 dementia typically will require constant supervision and possibly professional care. At Stage 6, patients begin forgetting their pasts and may no longer recognize family members and friends. Common symptoms include strong personality changes, delusions, getting lost or wandering off, difficulty speaking, and bladder problems.
Stage 7: Very Severe Decline
Stage 7 dementia is late-stage dementia. At Stage 7, the patient likely will not remember any of their past or any friends and family members and will need 24-hour care. Common symptoms include loss of the ability to speak, loss of bladder and bowel control, loss of language skills, inability to walk or sit unassisted, and severe disorientation.
Signs of Elder Abuse Among Dementia Patients
It is not always easy to identify instances of elder abuse, particularly among dementia patients who experience disorientation or have lost the ability to communicate effectively. Compounding this issue is the tendency of many dementia patients to suffer delusions (i.e., strongly held false beliefs) and paranoia, which can make it difficult to separate fact from fiction in the things they say. In the absence of direct evidence and clear communication, friends and family members should pay attention to the following red flags that abuse of a dementia patient may be occurring.
Physical elder abuse generally involves causing bodily harm by kicking, pushing, punching, slapping, or burning the senior. It can also involve the unauthorized use of restraints (both physical and pharmacological) and under- or over-medication. Some common signs of physical abuse include:
- Unexplained bruises, burns, or welts
- Fractures and broken bones
- Sudden changes in appetite or weight loss
- Signs of fear around certain staff members
- Signs of malnourishment or dehydration
- Bed sores
- Poor personal hygiene
Emotional abuse in nursing homes involves yelling at, threatening, belittling, or insulting the victim. As one of the most common forms of elder abuse, it is often more difficult to detect than physical abuse, especially among dementia patients. Signs that emotional abuse may be occurring include:
- New depression or anxiety
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Isolation from friends and family
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Sudden withdrawal
- Self-harming behaviors
Elder financial abuse occurs when the perpetrator misappropriates the money or property of an elderly adult for his or her personal benefit, profit, or gain. It can be accomplished through simple methods (e.g., theft) or more sophisticated means (e.g., securities fraud). Common warning signs of financial elder abuse include:
- Missing money and personal belongings
- Unusual activity in the victim’s accounts
- Unpaid bills and collections activity
- New lines of credit in the victim’s name
- Suspicious signatures on financial documents
- Loans or gifts to someone the family doesn’t know
If you have noticed any of these warning signs, you should consider speaking to an elder abuse attorney for seniors with dementia.
How Dementia Increases the Risk of Elder Financial Abuse
Dementia patients are at a higher risk of suffering elder abuse, including elder financial abuse. While many dementia patients may be able to recognize simple financial elder abuse (such as theft), they may have trouble recognizing more complex frauds and schemes. Depending upon which stage of dementia they are in, they may also be susceptible to being tricked into signing financial or legal documents they do not understand. Perpetrators of elder financial abuse can easily take advantage of a dementia patient’s cognitive decline, resulting in potentially severe financial harm.
Contact an Elder Abuse Attorney for Seniors With Dementia
If you suspect that someone you care about who suffered dementia is the victim of elder abuse, you should act quickly to minimize the potential damage thereof. For more information, please contact an elder abuse attorney for seniors with dementia at the Evans Law Firm, Inc., by using our online form or calling us at 415-441-8669 or toll-free at 1-888-50EVANS (888-503-8267).