Dementia and domestic violence
I have had a number of clients who have had issues with domestic violence, when there is a dementia involved. It is a very difficult situation, as there is not the “usual victim and perpetrator”. It often arises because the person with dementia lacks insight into their condition and the carer doesn’t fully understand the condition or has carer burn out or it just isn’t what they thought would happen when they got together as a couple.
So what can be done?
Firstly, make sure that the person with dementia has had the appropriate referral to the GP to make sure that they have a formal diagnosis and access to any treatment that is available. The dementia cannot be cured, but there are some treatments available for some types of dementia. The diagnosis also gives that person access to certain activities, which may also help the situation.
The carer will also need support, as many carers are clinically depressed within a year of diagnosis, they live with an underlying level of stress, which can very easily escalate when an acute episode happens. The person with dementia and their carer should ensure that they have had a referral to social services to ensure that they each have an assessment of their needs.
There should be a conversation with each of the parties to try to alleviate some or all of the fundamental issues that give rise to the domestic violence and to try to get each party to understand their situation, as far as is possible. This can involve a very careful and sometimes skilled conversation with the person with dementia to try to interpret and understand their situation and their understanding of their situation.
Both parties need a plan for safety and it is likely that the carer will be the person responsible for the instigation of both plans, which continues to put a lot of pressure on the carer. The clients I have are concerned for their safety and that of their loved one, so want a prompt response in the safety plan. This puts pressure on local services, which need a process to respond to this situation, which is different from a “usual process”.
This is a safeguarding issue, which is the responsibility of the Local Authority, to ensure that the person or people are kept safe. The plan could include lots of different strategies, which include diversion for one or both parties, medical input or in a serious case of harm, could include sectioning a person. And in some circumstances, for married couples it might include divorce, which might not be what they had intended in regards to their caring role, but if one of both parties continues to be in serious danger, it might be the least worst outcome!
The most important thing is to ask for help and not suffer alone in the home, as there is help that can be provided by all the services that are there to support people to live as successfully as they can in the community.
Which party are you saying is more or less likely to be the perpetrator and which the victim?
I’m not aware that there is a more or less likely perpetrator.
When someone with a dementia (or any other disability) is attacked without provocation, to which they do not respond or retaliate, then they are victims of abuse, which is criminal and should be reported to the Police.
However there are many situations where the person with dementia either instigates abuse (sometimes including violence), because they have misunderstood the situation. It can also be instigated by the carer / family member, as they do not understand the condition and /or the changes in their loved one. Once this behaviour has commenced, it can then be escalated by the other party due to the reasons above. It is in these situations where the perpetrator and victim roles become confused, as the parties can be both. It is a complicated situation that needs to be handled carefully by the authorities and those around them.
Hi Hillary, thanks for clarifying. I suggest you either add your comment as a preface to your piece or create a separate article that talks about the complexity of the issue.
My concern is that people who live with dementia are often unfairly blamed for violence that is not their fault because they and the condition with which they live are misunderstood.