Watching your loved one struggle with dementia is painful and confusing. Those who suffer from dementia are at increased risk of abuse because their mental abilities are impaired. Indicators of elder abuse may overlap with mental deterioration, but this does not make it less important to listen to your loved one when it comes to potential abuse.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a form of cognitive decline caused by physical changes in the brain that results in difficulty carrying out the tasks of daily living. It consists of a group of symptoms involving memory and decision making that gradually increases in severity with time. As the condition of the brain declines, changes in mood and behavior occurs which often includes hallucinations, delusions, aggression, agitation and more.

Dementia induced problem behaviors in the context of abuse and neglect may cause you or others to doubt your loved one when they discuss potentially abusive incidents with you, particularly when they suffer from delusions or hallucinations. However, it is important to watch and investigate your loved one’s allegations to ensure they are safe.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is mistreatment of an elderly person which causes them to sustain harm or some form of loss. The abuse can be physical, emotional, financial, or sexual in nature, and often these forms occur concurrently. Neglect is a common form of abuse in the elderly. The majority of elder abuse goes unreported, but there are ways in which you can safely report suspected abuse to the proper authorities.

Signs of potential abuse that signal the need to investigate further

  • Unexplained bruises, broken bones, abrasions or other physical trauma injuries.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family, isolation, depression.
  • Poor hygiene, weight loss, medical conditions that remain untreated, poor management of medications, dehydration.
  • Persistent, unexplained fear of certain caretakers.

Documenting potential abuse

If you suspect your loved one is suffering abuse in a care facility, document the signs that you see. This becomes even more important when dementia is advanced. Take photographs, write notes describing their behavior and injuries, and collect written statements from any witnesses. Assuming your loved one struggles with writing, you could take an audio or video recording of them recounting the abusive incident. This information would be taken to the long term care ombudsman, who have a responsibility to investigate and remedy incidents of abuse and take protective measures. If you think your loved one has been experiencing life threatening or severe abuse and fear for their ongoing wellbeing, then contact the police immediately.