Help Vulnerable Elders by Getting Educated and Involved

  • It's elder abuse awareness month - not that we should need a month to be aware of this horror. However, an article titled, "Study Finds Nearly Half of Alzheimer's Patients Abused" begins with this lead: "A recent study from the University of California, Irvine, examined the treatment of the elderly who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or similar disorders. Shockingly, the study found that nearly half of the elderly individuals had suffered from mistreatment by their caregivers. The research is only the latest example of the prevalence of elder abuse throughout the country."


    Half? That is beyond frightening. The number is likely so high, because this study didn't just look at physical abuse of a vulnerable elder or neglect or many other things we find horrifying. Researchers looked at how caregivers treated people with Alzheimer's day to day, as well. With this in mind, the numbers could actually be higher.

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    Caregivers of people with Alzheimer's often are under sometimes unimaginable stress. Many never get respite from their caregiving duties. When a parent, spouse or friend with Alzheimer's asks the same question for the umpteenth time, caregivers can sometimes become sharp and insulting with their loved one. These people are human, and often loving caregivers. While their shortened fuse is no excuse to demean a person with Alzheimer's, it is to some degree understandable that a stress caregiver is not always patient.


    I believe this type of abuse, whether it is occasional or chronic, needs to be addressed in several ways.

    • One is education. Many of the Alzheimer's organizations under the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, and the Alzheimer's Association give training to caregivers. This training and education is critical to helping caregivers understand, on a gut level, what their loved one is going through. The training also helps the caregiver discover coping mechanisms to help maintain a calm atmosphere.
    • Support is the second crucial need for caregivers. Forums, in-person support groups, articles and the ASK option on the OurAlzheimer's site, plus the Alzheimer's Foundation of America telephone support network call every Thursday night at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, called "Care Connection," can bring valuable support. To get in on the call, dial toll-free 1-877-232-2992 and, when prompted, enter the Guest ID: 271004#. For schedules and further details on Care Connection, call the AFA or visit the AFA Web site.
    • Respite care is the third option. Awhile back, I wrote an article on finding respite care for OurAlzheimer's titled, "How to Find Respite Help for the Caregiver." The article lists many options for finding respite care, including block nurse programs, Senior Companions and others. Of course, in-home care is a paid option. You'll find Web sites in the article so you can do searches for your area.

    I'm not addressing intentional abuse and neglect in this article, but we've all read horror stories about this happening in nursing homes. The thing is, physical and emotional abuse are happening to elders in their own homes, as well. Awareness is key. The public needs to be on the lookout for all elder abuse, but people with dementia are likely the most vulnerable of all.


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    Since you readers are people interested in helping those with Alzheimer's and other dementias, please educate yourself about what look for. Consider that the caregiver may not be intentionally abusive and actually needs help finding respite care, and perhaps more education and support. Of course, if you see intentional abuse, call your local Social Services to investigate, or even the police. Elder abuse must be stopped. We all need to be part of the movement to make this happen.


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Published On: July 09, 2010