Recognizing Abuse and Neglect of Individuals with Dementia

February 21, 2024
February 17, 2024
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Bre'anna Wilson
February 17, 2024
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Unfortunately, people living with dementia are at a higher risk of experiencing mistreatment due to their vulnerabilities related to impaired cognition. In this blog post, we'll discuss the top five signs of abuse and neglect, with a specific focus on how they may manifest in individuals with dementia.

By being aware of these signs, caregivers can take proactive steps to ensure the safety and well-being of their partners living with dementia.

1. Unexplained Injuries or Bruises

Unexplained injuries and bruises are one of the most common signs of abuse. Since individuals with dementia can have difficulty communicating or recalling events accurately, it puts them at increased risk because they are often unable to effectively convey what happened. And, unfortunately, even when they try, they are often not believed. Caregivers should take all explanations of injuries seriously and investigate claims, as well as routinely check for bruises, cuts, or fractures, especially in areas that may not be easily visible. Caregivers should also document any injuries or bruises and note any suspicious incidents or claims. Also, please seek medical attention for your partner if necessary.

2. Changes in Behavior or Mood

Abuse can have a profound impact on a person's emotional well-being, leading to changes in mood and behavior. For individuals with dementia, these changes may manifest as increased agitation, withdrawal, or depression. Caregivers should be alert to sudden shifts in behavior, especially if they coincide with interactions with specific individuals or other caregivers. Additionally, pay close attention to any reluctance to be left alone with certain people or signs of fear or anxiety in their presence. If you notice any changes in your partner's mood and behavior, try your best to create a safe space for them to express any concerns of fears they may have. Please do not dismiss what your partner shares, even if it's about someone you believe would never cause harm. And, please do not force your partner to be around someone they do not feel comfortable with.

3. Financial Exploitation

Individuals with dementia are often targeted for financial exploitation due to their impaired cognitive function, including deficits in logic and reasoning as well as memory. Caregivers should be vigilant about any unusual financial transactions, such as large withdrawals, unusual and repeated withdrawals to the same person or entity, sudden changes in estate planning documents, or missing funds. It's essential to establish safeguards to protect your partner's finances, such as setting up automatic bill payments, blocking spam calls, monitoring bank statements regularly, and limiting access to sensitive financial information.

4. Neglect of Basic Needs

Neglect is a form of abuse that involves the failure to provide essential care and support for an individual's physical, emotional, or medical needs. For individuals with dementia, neglect may manifest as poor hygiene, inadequate nutrition, or untreated medical conditions. Caregivers should closely monitor their partner's living conditions and ensure they have access to clean water, proper nutrition, and medical care. Be alert to signs of neglect, such as weight loss, dehydration, or untreated wounds and infections, and take action to address any deficiencies in care. It can be helpful to outline your partner's daily needs and routines and ensure that all parties involved in their care are aware of expectations as well as strategies for best success. It's also a good idea to regularly assess your partner's living conditions to ensure they are safe and conducive to their overall well-being.

5. Isolation or Social Withdrawal

Abuse can often involve isolating the person from their social support system, making it easier for the abuser to exert control. Individuals with dementia may be particularly vulnerable to isolation, as their cognitive impairment can make it challenging to maintain social connections independently. Caregivers should encourage their partner's friends and family members to engage in social activities and maintain relationships with the person with dementia. You can also explore community resources such as support groups, senior centers, memory cafes, or adult day centers to help combat isolation. Be alert to any signs of social withdrawal or reluctance to participate in previously enjoyed activities, as these may indicate attempts of someone trying to discourage interaction with others or to isolate the individual.

By recognizing the warning signs of abuse and taking proactive steps to protect our partners, we can help ensure their safety, well-being, and dignity. Remember to trust your instincts, report to appropriate authorities, and seek help if you suspect that your partner may be experiencing mistreatment.

If your partner is in immediate danger please call 911. Please report any incidents, suspicions, or concerns of abuse or neglect your local or state adult protective services agency or long-term care ombudsman.

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