Q: One day last week an elderly neighbor showed up at my door in tears. She said her husband had left in the morning to run errands and hadn’t returned to fix her lunch…she was hungry. I brought her inside and she continued to tell me he gets angry with her all the time, closed her personal checking account and took all her credit cards away. He often leaves her alone for extended periods of time. The woman was diagnosed a few years ago with dementia but I don’t know the specific diagnosis. When they were younger they were such a happy and active couple. After feeding her and she had calmed down I walked her back to her house. Her husband had just gotten home and he yelled at her for leaving the house. I am concerned and wonder if I should be doing anything about this?
A: After reading your letter “red flags” were popping up! If what the wife revealed to you are indeed true your concerns are justified. There are signs the home situation with this elderly couple are deteriorating and presenting a dangerous situation for the wife. The elder did not mention any incidences of being physically harmed but even so she could be residing in an environment putting her at risk.
There are never excuses for abuse of any form. Sometimes the first step in attempting to resolve the issues is to understand the reasons for the abuse. Clearly if the wife has a dementia diagnosis she should not be left unsupervised which appears to be happening on a frequent basis. Her judgement has been compromised and she may have lost many of her abilities to care for herself.
The husband’s approach to caring for his wife is sadly lacking. He may not even comprehend her inability to function safely on her own. He may be overwhelmed about the changes in her, frustrated she is no longer the woman he once knew and stressed to the point he verbally lashes out at her. He certainly is not capable at this point of fulfilling the caregiving responsibilities. There was no mention of other family support or services being provided in the home. The husband may not even be aware there are places to call for help.
Intervention appears to be essential before the home situation gets any worse. You are strongly encouraged to make a report to professionals who are experienced in working with elders who may be victims of abuse or neglect. It is not your responsibility to prove the allegations of abuse, you would be making the report in good faith. Call 1-800-922-2275.
Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff are available for no cost consultations in the home, office or community. For additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890.
Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., AgeInfo Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.