Advocacy, Family, Toward better care

20 shocking facts about the abuse of elders with dementia


The World Health Organization is clear on what constitutes elder abuse: “single or repeated acts, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.” Experts classify elder abuse in six or seven different categories: financial, physical, sexual, emotional, neglect, systemic, and neglect. More about the types of abuse here.

I’ve taken most of the twenty shocking facts below from a June 2016 BrainXchange webinar “When Dementia and Abuse Issues Collide: Untangling a Wicked Combination,” featuring Dr. Samir K. Sinha, Director of Geriatrics, Sinai Health System and the University Health Network Hospitals in Ontario, Canada. A video of the one-hour webinar appears at the bottom of the post.

 20 shocking facts about the abuse of elderly people who live with dementia

  1. Family members are often the abusers
  2. Research indicates that close to half of people with dementia being cared for by a family member at home experience some form of mistreatment.
  3. Lack of support, education and awareness of family caregivers and institutional care workers contributes to the abuse of persons in their care
  4. We tend to tolerate elder abuse because of our ageist and sexist societal values
  5. Elders who are being abused, particularly those who live with dementia, may not know it
  6. Influencing a person who lives with dementia to change their will and/or witholding care they need and can afford are forms of financial abuse
  7. Elders who are being abused may be afraid to talk about it for fear of the repercussions they believe they will suffer if they do
  8. People with dementia who suffer abuse may not be able to articulate what is going on, may respond with challenging behaviours, and then be medicated and or sedated to manage the responsive behaviour
  9. Abusers (both family members and institutions) may restrict access to the person being abused in order to hide the abuse
  10. Refusing to let family members and/or advocates see elders who live with dementia and to identify potentially abusive situations is in itself a form of abuse
  11. Unintentional abuse is still abuse
  12. Institutional practices and policies legitimize some forms of abuse (e.g. chemical and physical restraints)
  13. Elder abuse is more complicated than child abuse, and therefore more difficult to address
  14. Elder abuse is more common than many people believe
  15. Only an estimated one in 20 cases of elder abuse is thought to be reported
  16. In one Canadian study, only 47% of nurses in community care who witnessed abuse said they tried to stop it, which would tend to suggest that 53% who witnessed abuse DID NOT try to stop it.
  17. Professionals are often reluctant to ask about abuse, perhaps because of a fear that discussing and acknowledging it would necessitate referral of an adult for protection and trigger a punitive response
  18. In a 2008 study, 50% of family caregivers admitted to abusing the elders they cared for in some way, most often verbally.
  19. A 2007 systemic review of the prevalence of elder abuse found that 17% of professional carers reported they had committed abusive acts, and over 80% reported having observed abusive behaviour by others
  20. If we don’t recognize and address elder abuse, it’s likely to increase

Here’s the webinar in full:

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2 thoughts on “20 shocking facts about the abuse of elders with dementia”

  1. Education and awareness are so important, which is why #11 stuck out when I read this shocking list – how many people have good intentions but no tools to work with? It was hard for me to find a course on Alzheimer’s in my region, but that’s one of the first things I did when I began caregiving for my parents. Then, when I started looking for outside help, I was amazed to learn that many of the caregivers-for-hire have NO TRAINING in dementia behaviour. Yet this is so important! I made so many mistakes during my first year that the need for more education became self-evident. Thanks, Susan, for getting this out there, because people need to know. There are too many souls at stake to turn a blind eye to senior abuse…


    1. Boom. You hit multiple nails on multiple heads!

      “I made so many mistakes during my first year that the need for more education became self-evident.”

      To you and me and a growing number of others, it’s self-evident, but the mass majority simply blames it on the disease, saying “this is the way it is” without too much thought or feeling other than anger and blaming, because people are fed what I can only describe as a heap of lies. Anyway, enough of that. Time to change the world 😛


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