How to Protect an Elder Loved One with Dementia from Being Abused


Elder abuse is one of the most invasive public health problems in America today and, unfortunately, seniors with dementia are disproportionately suffering. 

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, about one-in-ten adults over age sixty have experienced some form of elder abuse. Such estimates, however, are probably too low. Studies show that for every reported case, roughly 23 cases go unreported and unknown to authorities. Furthermore, only one in 44 cases of elder financial abuse is believed to be reported.

The correlation between elder abuse and dementia cannot be understated. Abuse rates for seniors with dementia are shockingly high. Nearly one in two elder adults with dementia, or 47 percent, has experienced abuse, according to the University of California, Irvine Center on Elder Abuse and Neglect.

The reasons are as simple as they are reprehensible. Seniors with dementia are especially vulnerable because of their impaired memory, communication skills, and judgment. They are also less likely to report abuse, they are not as likely to be believed if they do speak up, and they might not even be aware that abuse is happening.

Knowing these issues, how can you protect a loved one with dementia from elder abuse?

First, by proactively securing a durable power of attorney. A power of attorney grants a designated person, like the adult child of an elder adult with dementia, the legal right to make decisions on his or her behalf. It is one of the most important legal documents adult children of elder parents can acquire, regardless of whether the parent has dementia or not. A durability provision ensures the document remains legally valid should the elder loved one become mentally incompetent. 

Next, learn to recognize signs of abuse. Elder abuse is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.” It can be physical, emotional or sexual in nature, and include financial exploitation and neglect.

Signs of elder abuse can include, but not be limited to, the following: 

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Unusual weight loss, malnutrition or dehydration
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, and poor hygiene

Finally, do not wait to report your concerns. There are people and organizations waiting to help, including our own Virginia Department of Social Services, long-term care ombudsman and law enforcement authorities. Further, contact your elder law attorney to obtain advice and counsel in order to learn more about the steps you may need to take now or in the future.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. This is a difficult topic to manage and we want to help you in any way we can. As we go into National Elder Law Month, do not wait to reach out to us on this or any elder law or estate planning concern.