Living with dementia and living with people declining with dementia is one of the toughest challenges in life. The impacts of dementia are merciless and can result in a once competent adult receding to the capacity of a child. No matter who we are, we all need support at times when life gets this hard.
Symptoms of dementia
The early signs of dementia could easily be mistaken for the mishaps of getting older. The Alzheimer’s Association list ten warning signs of dementia, including:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Problems with language
- Disorientation to time and place
- Poor or decreased judgement
- Problems keeping track of things
- Misplacing things
- Changes in mood and behaviour
- Trouble with images and spatial relationships
- Withdrawal from social activities
The symptoms from one person to another will vary. The impact on daily life might be more related to a general confusion or an increasing reluctance to go out into the world. It is important to note that these symptoms do not have to be accepted as a normal part of ageing and individuals affected should see a doctor as soon as possible.
How to spot neglect, physical or emotional abuse
Those who struggle with the symptoms of dementia also become vulnerable to abuse. Not only are they confused and forgetful, but they may struggle to express feelings and experiences adequately. This also makes abuse challenging to spot.
To spot physical abuse, you need to look for unexplained injuries, such as bruises or new scars, maybe even broken bones and sprains. More distressing could be drug overdoses or medication not taken as prescribed. However, it may be that signs are more subtle, broken eyeglasses, for instance, or a refusal to sit with a relative or carer without the presence of someone else.
For carers, dealing with a patient with dementia can be frustrating and distressing. However, at no point should the reaction to the patient be threatening, belittling or controlling. Bullying behaviour is still such when dealing with a person with dementia. You may not witness this bullying in person, but the adult with dementia may start rocking or mumbling, or display other signs of emotional distress, such as withdrawal.
Neglect or self-neglect may result in unexplained weight loss and dehydration. It may be that the adult has bed sores or bugs over the hair and body. It may be that they are unbathed and therefore dirty.
How to recognise financial abuse
A significant danger for those with dementia is financial abuse. It is possible for carers to begin making decisions about how the patient spends money or start spending the money for themselves.
You may be able to spot such abuse if you notice irregular withdrawals from the bank accounts or withdrawals despite penalties. It may be that items are missing from the home or that there are unpaid bills, where the carer has been given the money to make the payment but have kept the money for themselves.
What to do if you suspect abuse
The problem faced by those who suspect abuse is discerning the difference between abuse and the symptoms of dementia. However, it is better to be safe than to allow difficulties to continue. You never know, the carer may be grateful that someone has stepped in because they too are struggling with the situation.
If you are the person experiencing abuse, then the answer is to tell someone, whether this is another caregiver, a family member, a GP or social worker, if they are involved. If you are a caregiver, then you could contact the Action on Elder Abuse line on 0808 808 8141. If you worry a crime is being committed, then you should call the police.
If you feel there are practical legal steps that could be taken, such as a Power of Attorney, then we would be happy to support you. Our Gurney Harden solicitors are fully able to advise on the legal means of protecting yourself and relatives from any potential abuse.