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Special awareness of abuse for elders with dementia

By Michèle Clavery Vice President, Alzheimer’s Association of Trinidad and Tobago

June 16 (last Sunday) marked a special day in the life of the Alzheimer’s Association of Trinidad and Tobago, AzATT. This year, AzATT marks 19 years of existence, becoming a non-profit organisation in 2000, a provisional member of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) in 2003 and a full member from 2004. The ADI is the international federation of Alzheimer associations around the world.

The Association credits its birth to Norma Inniss, founder and first president. Inniss was also elected to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) and she represented AzATT at the Canada-Caribbean Partnership Meeting.

The Association’s website tells of some of the achievements and milestones of AzATT. Readers are encouraged to visit the website and Facebook, so as to keep informed of events of the organisation as they occur throughout the year. Moreover, visiting the website and Facebook page is a great way to learn more about Alzheimer’s Trinidad and Tobago.

The month of June, as it relates to AzATT, is doubly special: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was observed on June 15. WEAAD is an annual international UN observance day, coming about as a result of UN resolution 66/127.

It is instructive that as AzATT seeks to bring even more awareness to its existence its intention also is to bring awareness to the abuse suffered by persons with dementia, and who may be living with Alzheimer’s disease.

This article is dedicated not only to saying ‘Happy Birthday’ to AzATT and wishing the Association well in its endeavours, but also to present studies which address elder abuse particularly among persons who suffer the ill effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

Alzheimer’s Association, US, has reported that people with dementia are especially vulnerable to abuse, more so than the average elderly person. Reasons for this finding may seem obvious, but the reality is one that is increasing and one that needs attention.

What Alzheimer’s Association has found is that vulnerability arises due to the fact that the disease may prevent the person with dementia from either recognising and/or reporting it. Worse, what can happen is that persons with dementia can fall prey to strangers who take advantage of their cognitive impairment.

Alzheimer’s Society, UK, in an updated 2015 article, has given its view on mistreatment and abuse of people with dementia. They found the abuse to include the following forms of abuse: psychological, financial, emotional, sexual or physical. In most cases, they report, the abuser is well-known to the person with dementia. I note here, that Alzheimer’s Society is a member of the Action on Elder Abuse campaign.

Alzheimer Society, Canada, in a March 2019 article, has given invaluable information as it relates to elder abuse. Again, what is noteworthy is that abuse comes from people who are close to the abused, though strangers as abusers are not exempt.

Though research has shown that abuse affects between 4 per cent and 10 per cent of older adults, only one in five incidents of elder abuse comes to the attention of those who can help. In Trinidad and Tobago, a similar situation may be found.

The risk of abuse is found to be increasing, with communication challenges being observed, and an increasing dependence on caregivers. So reports Alzheimer’s Society, Canada. But what may not be considered is the occurrence of caregiver abuse by the person with dementia.

It was found that lifelong habits of the person with dementia—for example, if that person were someone who was one in control, either at home or in the workplace—were found to contribute to abuse of the caregiver.

All in all, reports are not without solutions to situations. There is much information on what facilities and agencies can do; so, too, how caregivers can be trained to respond. There is also information on risk factors which affect both the person with dementia and caregivers.

I invite readers to help AzATT celebrate its 19th year by becoming involved in spreading awareness of elder abuse. In addition, get involved with AzATT today.

For further information contact: Alzheimer’s Association of Trinidad and Tobago, 15 Nepaul Street, St James. Call 225-8764. Office hours: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Email: alztrinbago@gmail.com.