Know when someone with Alzheimer’s dementia is being abused
One of the most devastating times for me after Mom moved to the “Group Home” was the time she took a very bad fall. By the time I arrived, Mom had no memory of the fall nor any clue why her upper chest and right arm were bruised, scraped raw and swollen. I was left to ponder whether Mom had been physically abused by the staff; hit, pushed or simply neglected long enough to allow such an accident to happen.
A quick visit to her physician confirmed– no broken bones. I felt a slight sense of relief as I related the story I’d been told by the nursing home to our family doctor. ‘Upon getting out of bed that morning, Mom had suddenly swirled around and appeared to throw herself against the wooden foot-board of the bed before slamming onto the floor.’
Mom was 82 years old. At that age any fall was frightful–but physical abuse was simply unthinkable.
Her doctor agreed, but thought the nursing home’s explanation might be the plausible conclusion. If Mom had had a slight bout of Vertigo, which isn’t all that unusual for an elderly patient, she could have fallen in just such a manner. He ran a few tests and attempted a few exercises with Mom prone on the examing table. She appeared to have all the symptoms of Vertigo. The doctor suggested I stay alert to other signs of physcial abuse, but he thought Mom had probably fallen accidentally.
With prescription in hand, I was unable to convince myself so easily. I had a nagging sense that there might be more to this fall than a simple dizzy spell which was accompanied by a deeper sense of guilt on my part. How could I leave my Mom in the hands of someone who might hurt her? I’d been naive, I thought. I’d never watched for any signs of physical abuse until now.
I brought Mom home to stay with me a couple days while her sore body healed. And, truthfully, I was still haunted by a few questions:
- Was it really Vertigo that had caused such injury to my Mother?
- Could it have been neglect by the nursing home. (Too many patients and not enough supervision, perhaps?)
- Or was it something much worse–something done intentionally with malice?
Quizzing Mom was futile, she had no answers for my blunt questions.She couldn’t remember a thing about the fall and appeared surprised every time she looked at the dark bruise turning shades of purple across her chest and under her arm.
Her only comments were, “It’s sore, I fell.” At my nod of understanding, she’d add, “Gloria helped me.”
The staff at the nursing home did recount that Gloria (Mom’s favorite aide) was the first to help Mom off the floor and, Mom’s only recollection about the incident seemed to verify the same information.
Since I couldn’t reconcile all my fears, I’d almost decided to search for a different “Home” for Mom. On the fifth morning after her fall, Mom pushed forward out of the recliner where she was seated. Just as she stood, her body spun like a top and she was flung to the floor.
It happened so quickly I was startled. I had no time to react or do anything more than reach out to her before Mom hit the floor. I’d never seen anything like it. I could hear Gloria’s explanation again, and now, knew exactly what she meant. It almost appeared that an invisible force had spun Mom to the floor, exactly the way her doctor had said that Vertigo could happen.
Within the week Mom was back at the “Group Home,” doing her favorite things; folding laundry, supervising the kitchen staff, crafting with her friends.
Physical Abuse can happen to those who can’t take care of themselves. So how do you know if your loved one has suffered an accidental injury or is the victim of an angry or mean caregiver? A few things you can do to protect your loved one are:
- Always investigate any physical injury–As in my case, your suspicions may be wrong. Accidents do happen. Yet, it’s better to investigate than to make the false assumption of an accident when your loved one is being injured.
- Take the elderly patient to the doctor, preferably a Geriatric Physician. A Geriatric physician will be more knowledgeable about the likelihood of an accidental injury.
- Watch how your loved one relates to their caregiver— look for signs of intimidation, fear, be aware of physical behavior toward the caregiver such as flinching away or lowering eyes in fear.
- Point to the injury and and ask the person with Memory loss what happened–They may not remember exactly what happened but other things they say may offer some clues. Listen closely, Mom remembered Gloria’s behavior after her fall and she’d been accurate about her response. Don’t demand that they remember when certainly they can not. But encourage them to talk about the incident. If they re-tell something that isn’t totally related, look for a connection.
- If your loved one is in a Nursing Home or other facility, make unexpected visits. When my Mom was in the Group Home, the Manager recommended it. She said visiting at different hours provided a higher level of comfort and security for the family. Without being there all the time, I was fairly certain what Mom was doing every hour besides offering me the knowledge that the “home” had nothing to hide.
Most important! NO GUILT — You’re doing the best you can to provide the best environment for your loved one. That’s all you can do. Go with your gut feeling about their caregivers, investigate when you think something is wrong. And love your family member or friend as much as you can.