September is World Alzheimer’s Month, a critical time for numerous reasons. The campaign unites people affected by dementia from all around the world. It recognizes Alzheimer associations for the work they do, so they are better positioned to persuade governments to fund much-needed research.
But there’s a darker side to supporting the cause: shedding light on Alzheimer’s patients’ abuse.
The abuse of elders with Alzheimer’s disease has become a frighteningly regular occurrence across many of America’s nursing homes. Yet it’s widely misunderstood. Today (marked World Alzheimer’s Day), as we think about how to support our elderly loved ones, let’s focus on keeping them safe.
The Purpose of World Alzheimer’s Month
World Alzheimer’s Month (WAM), an international campaign launched in 2012 by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), is held every September to “raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia.”
Globally, according to ADI data, 2 out of every 3 people believe dementia is poorly understood in their countries. Yet someone in the world develops the disease every 3 seconds, and there is currently no cure. This presents dementia patients with disproportionate, long-term challenges in getting the support they need.
Each World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21, ADI champions a global effort to support the campaign and those affected by dementia – including patients, caregivers, researchers, and healthcare providers. It’s 1 of several of ADI’s efforts to advocate for better quality of life for people living with dementia and recognizing their important contributions to society. The association has also driven several research initiatives to better understand the disease, whose causes and treatments are not well understood.
But this misunderstanding reaches further than many people realize. In some cases, it amounts to mistreatment.
Alzheimer’s and a Sickening Pattern of Abuse
It’s tough enough to come to terms with the heartbreaking fact that a loved one has Alzheimer’s, but that isn’t the bottom line for some families. For those who unknowingly admit their loved one to a dangerous nursing home, it’s only the beginning.
A 2011 study by the U.S. House of Representatives found that 1 in every 3 nursing homes have been cited for abusing their residents. Since then, elder abuse complaints have increased in severity and in numbers, by at least 37 percent. This epidemic has inevitably affected residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia – who, unable to fend for themselves, make easy targets for the staff hired to protect them.
Reports over the years have described nursing home staff of all levels taking advantage of residents’ impaired mental health, whether physically, emotionally, financially, or sexually. Last year alone saw multiple U.S. nursing homes subject dementia patients to overmedication and wrongful eviction, sometimes with deadly consequences.
And it’s not just nursing homes threatening elders’ safety. The perpetrators can be anyone, particularly when it comes to financial exploitation. They could be guardians, who use dementia to build cases for making elders wards of the court against their will. A staggering 90 percent of perpetrators are family, friends, and trusted associates who mismanage their loved ones’ affairs without their knowledge.
Experts cite older age and reduced cognitive function as 2 of the biggest drivers of these crimes. Given the victims’ vulnerability, abuse is inconceivable. But like dementia, abuse is easily overlooked and stigmatized by the general public – and at worst, in many nursing home cases, hidden away. Victims need our help.
“The impact of World Alzheimer’s Month is growing, but the stigmatization and misinformation that surrounds dementia remains a global problem that requires global action,” ADI urges. Likewise, in the U.S., fighting the stigma that breeds elder abuse will take a united effort.
To help spread awareness of Alzheimer’s disease or report concerns of abuse or neglect, contact the U.S. Alzheimer association. You can also donate, participate in events, or spread the word online using the hashtag #WorldAlzMonth.