John Thorndike | The Last of His Mind |

Mistreatment of Alzheimer’s Patients

Here’s a scary report. According to Alzheimer’s Daily News, “A recent study by UC Irvine’s Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect examined mistreatment of elderly who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or similar disorders. The study found that nearly half (47%) of the 129 participants in the study with Alzheimer’s had suffered some degree of mistreatment by their caregivers.”


Mistreatment is a broad category, so it’s possible. But Alzheimer’s Daily News goes on to report that “the researchers discovered that the best indicator of mistreatment was examination of the behavior of the dementia sufferer toward the caregiver. Mistreatment was most likely to have occurred when the elderly resident exhibited psychological and physical aggression toward the caregiver (i.e. pushing, shoving, and swearing at the caregiver).”

In other words, the study’s authors believe that it’s mistreatment by caregivers that gives rise to the obstreperous behavior of dementia patients.

I find this hard to believe. Everything I experienced with my father, and every caregiving story I’ve read, leads me to think it’s the luck of the draw as to which Alzheimer’s patients turn refractory. Cantankerous old women may turn docile, and formerly respectful men may lash out at the wives or children they no longer know. How the study’s authors tie mistreatment to pushing, shoving and swearing seems tenuous to me—especially since the report includes this clarification: “It is important to note that the study does not determine whether these behaviors preceded or followed the mistreatment.”

Hey, doesn’t that negate the whole concept of cause and effect? I’d say it’s back to the drawing board for this study and its authors. They might want to tighten down on their data collection as well, since “Most of the data was provided by the caregivers.”

All that said, I can easily see how “mistreatment” (such as confining a dementia patient to a nursing home, to their own homes, to schedules they feel uncomfortable with) could lead to the behaviors mentioned. It’s a miracle that Alzheimer’s patients don’t try to burn down the world. The frustration of the disease, the agony of forgetting language and people and all one’s past: it would be enough for me to go into a rage, I’m sure. Still, laying the blame of rowdy behavior by Alzheimer’s patients on their caregivers seems to come from a chilling and narrow perspective.

Here’s a free link to the study results. You can read the full study online, but you have to pay for it.

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