The number of people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is rising rapidly. Because dementia makes elders particularly vulnerable, it’s important to address the relationship between dementia and abuse risk, particularly for those living in long-term care facilities.

According to the latest numbers from the Alzheimer’s Association (pdf), more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and every 67 seconds someone new develops the disease.  Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive disease that causes problems with memory and behavior and worsens over time. As baby boomers age, the number of people with Alzheimer’s is projected to increase to as many as 14 million by 2050.

For each of these patients, care will be a concern. And for the millions living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, that care will be coming from strangers.

Dementia Patients Growing in Number

The Alzheimer’s Association has projected the prevalence of the disease to as much as triple between now and 2050. In Kentucky, the association estimates the number of people with Alzheimer’s will grow by up to 28 percent by 2025, putting an increased burden on the health care system, nursing care facilities, and families affected by such diagnoses.

Right now, an estimated 67,000 people aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in our state. By 2020, it’s projected to reach 75,000, and by 2025, 86,000.

In 2013, the organization says 15.5 million loved ones provided almost 18 billion hours in unpaid care to those suffering with dementia. But for those families who can’t provide the care themselves, nursing homes are the next logical choice.

Dementia Patients at an Increased Rate of Nursing Facility Abuse

Caring for an elder is not easy work. The difficulties are compounded when that elder is struck with dementia. For family, sometimes love is the only thing standing in between the caregiver and the elder, helping to balance the frustration with a sense of duty and familial bond.

In nursing homes, however, untrained staff or someone quick to anger could be pushed over the edge by a “difficult” Alzheimer’s patient. The National Center on Elder Abuse says a 2009 study found that close to 50 percent of those suffering from dementia had been abused. Another study in 2010 estimated 47 percent had been mistreated.

When we hear of elders being abused in nursing homes, it’s not uncommon for those residents to be Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

Caregivers Are Not Always Equipped for The Growing Issue of Alzheimer’s Disease

As the Alzheimer’s Association reports, direct care workers who comprise the majority of nursing home staff are not always trained to work specifically with dementia patients. These care workers, including nurses aides tasked with bathing, feeding, moving, and dressing patients, receive an average of 75 hours total in training, with little focus on dementia care.

With high turnover rates and high-stress conditions, these workers may be more prone to abuse the patients who are most difficult to work with. Further, the Alzheimer’s Association reports, there is an overall shortage of qualified nursing home staff throughout the country. This problem, like dementia diagnoses, is expected to grow. By 2030, the U.S. will need an estimated 3.5 million additional health care professionals to maintain the current ratios of elder patients to caregivers. Lack of training, staff shortages, stressful work conditions—all of these compound the difficulties faced by nurses and nursing home workers who care around the clock for dementia patients.

With current estimates indicating an exploding population of elders with dementia, paired with the lack of qualified caregivers, we could be standing on the brink of an epidemic of elder abuse—all the more reason for loved ones to advocate for their elders no matter who is caring for them. If you suspect that your loved one has been abused in a nursing home in Kentucky. Indiana, Tennessee or Ohio, a nursing home abuse attorney can review the situation and explain your legal rights at no charge.

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