Was My Mom Abused?
Editor's note: This piece originally appeared on Trish's AARP Blog
On July 2, USA Today reported that more than 20 former employees of a Georgia Alzheimer's care center are facing dozens of criminal charges after a three-month state investigation uncovered allegations of cruel treatments of patients.
The cruelty ranged from physical abuse - slapping patients and throwing water on them - to outright neglect and financial exploitation. Other abuse included shackling patients to their beds with sheets and 'double diapering' so the staff wouldn't have to change soiled diapers so often.
As it turns out, various staff members had prior felony convictions that included voluntary manslaughter and identity theft.
So what does this have to do with my mother?
My mom was a dynamo. Yet, as soon as she was moved to a nursing home, my mom - this firecracker of a woman - became docile and acquiescent. At first I was confounded, but then I realized that she instinctively knew that she should not make waves if she wanted to be treated well. But there were two incidents that shook me to my core.
It seemed to be just an ordinary day. My mom was sitting in a chair in her room and I was singing to her. An orderly came in to gather trash. When my mom saw him, she started to whimper and put her hands across her breasts as though she were trying to protect them. The man quickly exited as I assured her she was fine, that she was safe...but was she?
I spoke to the nursing home administration, but they assured me was just a random incident. Still, I wondered...
During a visit a few days later, the orderly returned. Again my mother covered her breasts, but this time her whimper turned into a primal scream which drew the attention of staff members. After calming my mother down, I again spoke to the administration saying I was concerned there might have been inappropriate contact from the man who entered her room. I insisted that this orderly never again come into my mother's room. The head of staff reluctantly agreed and, to my knowledge, that was the end of it.
But who knows? This is the fear of leaving a loved one in a facility. You don't know what is happening once you leave. If you criticize the food or mention that no one has combed your mom's hair, will they take it out on her once you have left? With Alzheimer's, the patient can't relate the details of a terrifying incident. You can only imagine, and what you imagine can be devastating.
So when I read about the unconscionable abuse at the Georgia facility, I remembered my mom's terrified face, and the details came tumbling back to me.
And what retribution would I suggest for any person who abused or took advantage of an elderly person who has no means of self-defense? Well, I haven't ruled out capital punishment.
If you suspect that your loved one may be a victim of abuse, there are people who can help. Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse for more information and to locate resources near you.