My father's wife is verbally abusing him, is there anything we can do to help?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My father is in his last stage of Alzheimers. His wife cares for him at home but verbally, mentally & physically abuses him & refuses to use his IRA for assistance. Her family wanted my sister to go down to help care because they saw the abuse & wanted someone to intervene so they talked my step mom into calling her down. At first all went well but eventually the abuse started again with my sister there. At that time the family told us what was happening & they would support us in getting help. We called Adult Protection Services & have gotten no help. We've called the police & they just calm things down for the moment. She has refused to take him to the hospital at the suggestion of his nurse so my sister called the ambulance. They found my step mom was over medicating my dad however once he was stable he was sent home again. Not enough proof has been able to be recorded so we have gotten no help. All of this has created even more trauma to my dad & we feel we have to pull out because it is more often that she takes it out on my dad and the abuse has escalated because she is angry at us. She has power of atty, health care & finances & she sweet talks her way out of things with the authorities we've called in so it is our honesty in question. Is there any help out there for my dad? Is there anything else we can do?

Expert Answer

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Dear family of the abused dad:

I'm so sorry to hear of the challenges you're facing. There are a few suggestions that I can make, but to be honest, your issue is one that can, in my opinion, be best served by an attorney representing you and the rest of your family on behalf of your dad.

It sounds like your dad's wife may be committing abuse and/or exploitation. It's possible that she too has physical or cognitive problems, or perhaps is overwhelmed by the demands of caring for your father. I certainly can't be sure without being directly involved. However, here are some suggestions that I have regarding elder abuse. I prefer you act on them after you involve an attorney. It sounds like things may be escalating for your dad.

First, document in writing what you know and can prove about your dad's wife and her behavior and actions. Then, working with an elder law attorney or an attorney who specializes in criminal law involving seniors, push him/her to have Adult Protection Services brought into this situation. If you can prove abuse, the attorney or APS should bring in the police, and perhaps your attorney can help you get legal control of your dad's care and finances. This isn't an easy task, and based on your comments, will be very adversarial with your dad's wife. But if what you've observed is true and can be proven, you must take immediate action.

Second, contact the Alzheimer's Association. Explain what's going on and ask for their advice. You might even do this as a way to get a referral to an attorney who deals in these types of situations. They may also have some additional ideas for you regarding protecting your dad from abuse as well as getting better results from APS.

Third, if your dad is truly in end-stage Alzheimer's, call Hospice and get them involved. You can explain to them what's going on with your dad and his wife. Your dad's doctor can also support you with a written diagnosis of your dad's terminal condition and an added request for Hospice involvement. He too should be informed and updated as to what you have documented as potential abuse of your dad.

Hospice can help take some pressure off of the caregiving duties of dad's wife. If you present this to her in a positive, supportive way, she may see it as you trying to be helpful. Hospice can bring a fresh set of eyes into the situation and help monitor anything that might be going on regarding care and possible abuse. Hospice can take over the control of dad's medicines and assume all of the related palliative care duties.

You might also consider paying to have an outside aide come to his home to "assist" dad's wife with the caregiving duties. This adds another layer of protection for your dad. If necessary, you can offer to pay for this new service, and ask the attorney if she can reconcile those expenses as part of the action s/he takes on yours and dad's behalf and get you reimbursed at some point.

This sounds to me, based solely on your observations, to be more of a legal situation right now than a health or care situation. Both elements surely are involved, but taking steps to protect your dad is paramount. After doing that, you can work to bring more care, oversight and controls into dad's life, and assure dad and yourselves of an end to any potential abuse.

Best of luck with this very difficult situation.