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When selecting a nursing home for a loved one, there are many things to take into account, such as your loved one’s state of health, mobility, and mental state. If your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is necessary to consider which facilities are equipped to deal with these challenges. Both Alzheimer’s and dementia can be appropriately managed or worsened through the level of intervention provided by caretakers. In addition, abuse of elderly residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia can exacerbate their mental deterioration and it can be more difficult for these residents to articulate their abuse or take action against it.
Defining Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Although Alzheimer’s and dementia can be closely related, they are distinct. Alzheimer’s is actually a disease which is classified as a particular type of dementia; in fact, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Dementia, in contrast, is considered a “syndrome,” not a disease. This means that dementia does not have a definitive diagnosis. Rather, it is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that affects mental and cognitive tasks.
Dementia can be an extremely debilitating condition for adults as they age. Early signs of dementia include
- Short term memory loss
- Difficulty finding or selecting the right word
- Uncharacteristic changes in mood, such as depression, anxiety, or anger
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks
- Confusion and difficulty following narratives or storylines
- Repeating oneself
- Losing one’s sense of direction
- Difficulty adapting to change or handling new experiences
Over time, dementia can seriously affect an individual’s ability to function successfully in the world. They may require constant care and supervision so that they remain safe and free from anxiety. In advanced cases, people with dementia may be unable to remember those close to them or engage with the world in a meaningful way. It is important to remember that dementia can begin to develop at any age, although the risk of dementia grows as people age. Look for signs and symptoms of dementia in your loved ones, even if they are in a long-term care facility, to ensure that they are given proper care.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, meaning that it worsens over time, slowly contributing to cognitive impairment and memory loss. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and the exact cause of the disease remains unknown, although it is associated with a buildup of proteins within the brain that damage pre-existing connections and contribute to memory loss. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s overlap with those of dementia in part, but include
- Difficulty remembering recent events or conversations
- Trouble understanding visual or spatial representations
- Difficulty holding a conversation or writing clearly
- Decreased or poor judgement
- Misplacing objects
- Impaired judgement
- Disorientation and confusion
- Changes in behavior
- Difficulty in speaking, swallowing, or walking
Caring for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Residents
As symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia worsen, patients will require more care. Eventually, they will need 24-hour supervision. Nursing homes which are designed to care for patients with debilitating cognitive disorders should have certain components and standards so that these residents are kept safe and as healthy as possible.
For example, they should provide secured residential and recreational areas to prevent patients from wandering or getting lost. In addition, memory care facilities should provide individualized medical care to each patient based on their specific cognitive needs. This might include physical and mental therapies, social guidance, and nutritional monitoring. Since dementia and Alzheimer’s patients usually require help with everyday tasks, additional staff will be necessary to bathe, groom, dress, feed, and administer medication to patients.
Abuse of Alzheimer’s and Dementia Residents
Nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are at an increased risk of physical, sexual, verbal, and financial abuse as well as neglect because of their high vulnerability and increased needs. Nursing home staff or other residents may take advantage of these patients’ confusion, memory loss, and lack of credibility because they may not be able to coherently or convincingly articulate the abuse they are receiving. Signs and symptoms of various forms of abuse are similar to those exhibited by residents without Alzheimer’s or dementia; however, a sudden worsening of the disease is often a clear sign of abuse, poor treatment, or neglect.
Physical and Chemical Restraint of Alzheimer’s Patients
One particularly common and concerning form of abuse in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is the unnecessary use of physical and/or chemical restraints. Physical restraints include straps, belts, or locked doors that prevent the patient from moving or walking around on their own. Chemical restraints refer most commonly to antipsychotics which mentally subdue a resident but can have serious, even life-threatening, side effects. Nursing homes should only use physical or chemical restraints if a patient is an immediate danger to themselves or to another resident, or if the patient is prescribed antipsychotics or physical restraints in certain circumstances to keep the resident safe. However, caretakers who become frustrated or impatient with residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia may choose to implement restraints illegally to make their job easier, inflicting both physical and psychological pain upon the patient.
Legal Recourse for Maryland and Pennsylvania Residents
Unfortunately, many elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia cannot advocate for themselves. It is therefore important for family members or legal guardians to speak out if they believe that their loved one is being abused or taken advantage of in some way. You may choose to speak with the nursing home about the level of care that your loved one is receiving, but if you believe that they may be abused, an internal investigation of the employee or employees committing the offenses may actually worsen your loved one’s condition. It is important to ensure the safety of the resident before taking any further action.
For a free consultation on your case, contact trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian. Nursing home abuse can feel overwhelming and be isolating to family members of the victim who simply wish to protect their loved one. Let us advise you how to move forward with your case. Call us at 800.529.6162 or contact us online.