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Many of us at some point or another are faced with the responsibility of providing care for an aging loved one. While some of us may be able to care for older relatives and friends ourselves, in other situations our job demands, family obligations, and the deteriorating health of our loved ones make it impossible for us to meet their needs. For an increasing number of people, the intensive care and medical services available in a nursing home or long-term care facility makes such places the best and safest option.  Unfortunately, as the number of people living in nursing homes has risen, incidences of nursing home abuse and neglect have become increasingly common and patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are particularly vulnerable. One 2009 report from U.S. News & World Report even tells in vivid detail the sad story of an elderly Alzheimer’s patient suffering in an elder care facility in Pennsylvania.

In the honor of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, our Rhode Island elder abuse and neglect lawyers have compiled some facts you should be aware of concerning both Alzheimer’s and dementia, and how the symptoms of these illnesses cause those suffering from them to be more susceptible to abuse. Having a better understanding of the impacts and ramifications of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can help you protect your loved ones from abuse, and make an informed choice when it comes to providing for their care.

The Facts About Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 1983 then-President Ronald Reagan declared November as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. At that time, there were approximately two million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. Since then, that number has risen dramatically, and there are currently over five million cases. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in this country, and former President Reagan himself died of the disease in June 2004. While Alzheimer’s and dementia are often lumped in together and even considered by some to be a natural part of aging, Alzheimer’s is actually a form of dementia, a broad term for overall mental decline that progresses and gets worse over time. Symptoms of dementia often vary case by case, but often include at least two of the following:

  • Short-term memory loss, such as forgetting where you are, what you are doing, or where you put something;
  • Changes in thinking and the ability to reason, often exhibiting poor judgement;
  • Problems with focusing on tasks and a general lack of attention span;
  • Problems communicating with others or speaking; and
  • Perception issues, such as seeing things that are not there, or having distorted vision.

Alzheimer’s in particular is a disease that attacks the brain, and it is the most common form of dementia. Whereas dementia in general tends to slowly progress, Alzheimer’s occurs in stages and tends to progress more quickly, resulting in death in as little as eight years after symptoms become noticeable. There are three stages of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, which include:

  1. Mild or early stage, in which a person may have occasional memory lapses, forget words, or lose objects but can still function independently.
  2. Moderate or middle stage, in which the person will forget names of familiar people, confuse words, become angry and frustrated, and become unable to live without assistance. This is the longest stage, and can progress over the course of a number of years.
  3. Severe or late stage. In this final stage, people may lose the ability to communicate or respond to their environment, and may lose control of their movements and bodily functions.

It is generally towards the end of the middle and in the late stages that Alzheimer’s patients typically require the kind of advanced medical care and treatment that can only be provided in a nursing home or long-term care facility.

Preventing Elder Abuse and Choosing the Right Nursing Home For Your Loved One

Elder abuse is a common yet overlooked problem in nursing homes through the United States, and people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are especially vulnerable. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), close to half of people suffering dementia in this country have suffered from some sort of abuse or neglect at the hands of their caregivers. The common types of abuse for people with dementia include:

  • Verbal abuse, such as yelling at, berating, teasing, or taunting;
  • Physical abuse, such as hitting with fists or an object, scratching, choking, and pinching. This may include sexual abuse and inappropriate touching; and/or
  • Neglect, such as failing to provide a clean room or linens, starving patients, not offering enough to drink, and failing to interact with them or listen and respond to their requests and complaints.

Nursing home patients can also be taken advantage of financially as well. A July 2015 story on elder abuse among dementia patients in the Providence Journal points out that people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia are particularly susceptible to being scammed by caregivers into turning over their money and property.

Nursing home administrators, doctors, and medical staff are all obligated to provide a standard of care to their patients. Cases involving abuse and neglect can result in personal injury claims for damages against the nursing home, as well as medical malpractice claims against attending physicians.

Choosing The Right Nursing Home for Your Loved One

If you have a loved one who is suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you may want to consider placing them in a specialized Alzheimer care facility. According to advocates at the public information website NursingHomeAbuseGuide.org, facilities that specialize in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have staff that is specifically trained in dealing with the challenges these illnesses present and may provide a better quality of care than a regular nursing home. Whichever type of facility you choose, there are general tips for choosing a nursing home to ensure your loved one will get the care they need:

  • Visit the facility at different types of day and night;
  • Speak with nurses, staff, and request to speak with other patients and their family members;
  • Review previous inspections and health department reviews of the facility, and notice if there have been violations;
  • Make arrangements to eat at the facility. Check to see that the food is fresh, plentiful, and appetizing; and
  • Observe patients, and notice if they seem happy and content, or anxious and unhappy.

Contact Our Experienced Rhode Island Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyers

If you have a loved one who suffered an injury or illness in a nursing home, contact our experienced Providence nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers today. At Gemma Law Associates, we will fight for your rights and hold responsible parties accountable for their actions. Let us assist your loved one in getting the compensation they deserve by contacting our Providence elder abuse and neglect lawyers today to arrange a free consultation.