People living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia are especially susceptible to elder abuse, and unfortunately due to the nature of the disease the individual may not be aware the abuse is occurring or able to communicate the issue, making it harder to identify. In fact, as many as 62% of older adults with dementia experience psychological abuse, and as many as one-fourth have been physically abused. Additionally, one study found that 60% of elderly victims of sexual abuse have cognitive impairment, and 31% of adults with dementia have experienced more than one form of abuse.

Elder abuse can occur in any care setting and by anyone including family members, health care providers, strangers, and others. The trauma of elder abuse can result in death, a decline in physical and mental health, complication and destruction of social and familial ties, financial loss, and more. 

We know that police, firefighters, emergency personnel, and social workers will increasingly encounter these vulnerable individuals, and working with them can be fundamentally different from working with other older victims of abuse or exploitation. Despite this, professionals and staff throughout health care, social services, and criminal justice systems receive little or no training in the unique needs of individuals living with dementia.

To address this crisis, the Alzheimer’s Association and AIM have partnered with bipartisan Congressional champions. The Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act is being led by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME),  Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL-22), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA-14), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), Pete King (R-NY-2), Maxine Waters, (D-CA-43) and Chris Smith (R-NJ-4). 

The Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act would require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop training materials to assist professionals supporting victims of abuse living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. These materials would be designed to assist law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, medical personnel, victims services personnel, and others who encounter and support individuals living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Dementia-specific training for these professionals will improve the quality of their interactions with individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and will also help protect them from elder abuse. The legislation would also require DOJ to report annually on the dissemination and use of the materials to Congress.

While Congress remains focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important they continue to act to protect our nation’s most vulnerable from other tragedies. Join us and ask Congress to act today, and include the bill in the fourth COVID-19 economic relief package.