Nursing Home Residents with Dementia: Easy Targets for Neglect and Abuse

Madeleine Jones
April 4, 2017

Recent studies reveal that nursing home residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia at a significantly greater risk for becoming victims of neglect or outright abuse. Unfortunately, due to the challenges and characteristics that surround dementia, many cases of abuse or neglect are never detected or reported. Understanding more about the disease and the risk factors involved can help loved ones identify, and hopefully even prevent dementia sufferers from falling victim to mistreatment. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured due to negligence, call an experienced Las Vegas elder abuse injury lawyer at Cogburn Law today for a free case consultation.

How Big is the Problem?

According to the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect, approximately 5.3 million individuals of all ages suffer from Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. About 5.1 million are age 65 or older. And the number of people who have dementia is only expected to climb in upcoming years. By 2030, it is expected that about 7.7 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s, and about 16 million will suffer from dementia by 2050.

In recent U.S. studies, around 47 percent of people with dementia were found to have been mistreated by their caregivers. And prevalence rates vary significantly from study to study, with some indicating that as many as 55 percents of dementia sufferers have endured some type of abuse. Victims with dementia often experience sexual abuse, psychological and physical mistreatment, neglect and even financial abuse. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA):

  • About 19.7 percent of elders with dementia who were abused suffered physical mistreatment.
  • Approximately 29.5 percent experienced neglect.
  • A disturbing 88.5 endured psychological abuse.

Why Are Victims with Dementia Easy Targets?

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are particularly challenging for victims, loved ones and caregivers. What might begin as simple memory loss or occasional confusion often progresses to the inability to effectively communicate, extensive cognitive impairments, and even delusions? Common characteristics of dementia sufferers include:

  • Depression, anxiety, mood swings, and social withdrawal
  • Irritability, aggressiveness, and sometimes violent behaviors
  • Distrust and unnecessary suspicion of others
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Wandering and severe confusion, memory loss
  • The inability to perform day-to-day tasks like eating, bathing, dressing or using the toilet

Because of these symptoms, many victims of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia require round the clock care. The demands involved with providing care for a dementia victim can be overwhelming for caregivers. When family members and other loved ones are unable to provide such intense care, dementia patients are often placed in nursing homes. And due to the characteristics that surround the disease, these individuals become easy targets for abuse and neglect.

Abuse and Neglect: Mood and Behavior Changes

Dementia sufferers sometimes exhibit problems with their mood and behavior, and their risk for becoming a victim of abuse or neglect escalates. When elders display signs of aggression, irritability or violence, caregivers are often reluctant to offer the interaction necessary to provide proper care and treatment. As a result, the needs of nursing home residents are sometimes neglected. In other cases, caregivers become agitated or frustrated with the resident’s behavior and he or she may strike out, intentionally harming the victim.

Confusion, Delusions and Memory Loss

As dementia progresses, victims often become more and more confused, are more likely to believe things that are not real, and forget events that have happened. Unfortunately, this creates an attractive circumstance for abusers. Many offenders believe that the abuse or neglect they inflict will never be discovered because the victim will likely not recognize what is happening, or won’t remember it anyway. And even if the victim does happen to speak out about what he or she has endured, claims of abuse and neglect are frequently disregarded because loved ones and other caregivers often believe that the claims are just another side effect of the disease.

Wandering and the Need for Round the Clock Care

It is fairly common for dementia sufferers to wander, sometimes placing themselves in harm’s way. It is the responsibility of nursing homes to have safety and security measures in place to protect these residents. In some cases, staff members use physical restraints and medications to ensure that residents are kept safe. Disturbingly, however, staff members also use these types of measures unnecessarily- which sometimes constitutes abuse.

Taking Action When Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Occurs

When dementia sufferers experience abuse or neglect while in the care of a nursing home in Nevada, staff members, facilities and sometimes third parties can be held liable. Even though people with dementia experience deteriorating mental and emotional capabilities, abuse and neglect is still very traumatic and can sometimes be physically damaging or even deadly. Therefore it is vital for friends, family members, and caregivers to watch for the signs of abuse and take legal action when necessary with the help of a Las Vegas nursing home abuse attorney.