It’s an unnerving reality that senior citizens who suffer from Alzheimer’s are often the targets of scams, financial abuse, and mistreatment. As many as 15% of people who suffer from dementia have been reported as targets of financial abuse. In America, about 5.1 million senior citizens suffer from some form of dementia like Alzheimer’s and almost half of those experience some form of abuse including financial and verbal, negligence, and more.
The high rate of reported abuse indicates a major need for the protection of rights for those individuals. Many have family who will speak out on their loved one’s behalf, and many, sadly do not. Even for those experiencing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the feelings of isolation and mistrust are heavy, confusing, and increase the likelihood of an early death.
Furthermore, research indicates that physical abuse suffered by individuals who cannot fight back costs more than $5 billion to treat annually. Financial abuse leaves loved ones with lost inheritances and the inability to continue to pay for treatment at certain facilities. Often, it is difficult to prove and/or discover the evidence of mistreatment and abuse before it is too late. The psychological, financial, and physical damage has been done and nothing can ever erase that.
To become more proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to discovering mistreatment associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, there are steps that families and loved ones can take:
1) Contact an attorney if you suspect mistreatment by a caregiver or family member. While the laws surrounding elder mistreatment may seem straightforward, proving cases in court can be a complex process. From uncovering evidence to evaluating the change in behavior or medical records of an Alzheimer’s patient, an attorney’s job is to turn over every stone.
2) Carefully evaluate any medical professional who has contact with your loved one. Sometimes you may not be able to meet every care provider individually, particularly if your loved one is in a 24-hour care facility. You can, however, ask detailed questions about how caregivers are evaluated before they are allowed to work with patients.
3) Be vigilant in understanding the signs of abuse. When your loved one is under another’s care, it’s more important than ever to reconcile accounts on a regular basis. If you are working through the situation as a family, pick a point person to serve as an accountant and keep accurate and up-to-date reports regarding medical care and personal money that your loved one may have.
4) Watch for signs of abuse. Drastic changes in temperament, odors, bruises, unexplainable changes in medical records, and scratches may all indicate the presence of abuse. As soon as you suspect abuse, take action by filing a report with the company and contacting an attorney. Your loved one should never have to suffer abuse at the hands of a caregiver who is paid to support and protect him or her.
5) Never assume your loved one is speaking irrationally. It’s easy to dismiss talk by those who suffer from Alzheimer’s as out of place and time, but changes in word usage, an increase in negative language, or fearful expressions when seeing certain caregivers may all be indications of a serious problem. Unless it is a problem that you have seen and experienced before, take any warning signs seriously.
With baby boomers reaching the older ages in the near future, the trends indicate a steep rise in the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, the numbers are projected to rise from 5.1 million to 16 million in 2050. Our duty as a loved one and a caretaker is to make the journey through such a devastating illness as painless as possible. These statistics are why it is important to take proactive measures against elder abuse by harshly prosecuting any instances we find in the healthcare system.