Dementia is increasingly common in the United States. Thanks to continued improvements in medical care, people are living longer. And many dementias increase in prevalence as people age. According to the Centers of Disease Control, the number of Americans with dementia is expected to almost triple by 2060.
Dementia is a medical term for impairments related to memory, thinking, and decision-making. Patients suffering from dementia have unique medical needs. Communication is often difficult, and some patients forget critical parts of their medical history. As a concerned child or family friend, you want the senior citizens in your life to receive competent care when they fall ill. The simple fact is that dementia often complicates diagnosis, in the emergency room and at the doctor’s office.
Call Powers & Santola, LLP if you have concerns that a loved one with dementia received substandard medical care. Medical malpractice is a leading cause of injury, and those with dementia deserve compassionate treatment. They might also have the right to bring a claim for medical malpractice, which we can help determine in a consultation.
Why Dementia Patients Are Vulnerable to Medical Malpractice
Those suffering from advanced dementia often lack the ability to advocate for themselves. Some can no longer speak. Others can remember only bits and pieces of their life history. Dementia is certainly not a new medical condition, but many health care facilities are unprepared for providing care to those struggling with this condition.
Some problems which can arise include:
- A person’s inability to explain symptoms adequately, which impedes proper diagnosis.
- Increased risk of patient mix-ups, since the patient cannot tell when a provider has the wrong medical information.
- Difficulty obtaining informed consent from the dementia patient for medical procedures.
- Failure to contact legal guardians or family members before providing care.
- Improper instructions for someone suffering from memory loss, which makes proper self-care impossible.
- Getting lost in the shuffle if the patient does not speak up and requests medical attention in the emergency room.
Concerned family members and friends should consider acting as advocates for someone with dementia. Being an advocate can include going to the emergency room with your friend, explaining symptoms to doctors, and bringing information about their medications and recent treatments.
Emergency rooms often make people with dementia uncomfortable because so many people are bustling about. Being an advocate can also include trying to keep someone calm in a stressful situation.
Malpractice and Nursing Homes
Many dementia patients are confined to dementia care in a nursing home, where abuse and neglect are common. Some of the major problems include:
- Pressure sores. Pressure sores form when a person lies in one position for too long, which cuts off blood flow. The key to preventing pressure sores is to reposition a patient regularly and treat any infection.
- Chemical restraint. A doctor might give drugs to a dementia resident with the goal of sedating them, so they are less disruptive or easier to manage. This type of constraint is often a misuse of antipsychotic drugs.
- Violent attacks. Staff might fail to keep some dementia patients from attacking each other, which can result in serious injuries including fractures and concussions.
- Sexual assault. Some dementia patients are raped or groped in a nursing facility.
- Neglect. Staff might neglect your loved one, which can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and failure to give medication. Some dementia patients become very sick while in skilled nursing facilities. Others wander away from the premises and are injured in falls.
As mentioned above, many patients—especially those whose condition is so advanced that they are admitted to a nursing facility—struggle to explain what is happening to them. Consequently, family and friends might be left in the dark that a loved one is abused or neglected until they receive a phone call in the middle of the night about an emergency. Please contact a Syracuse medical malpractice lawyer if you have questions about care a loved one is receiving at a long-term facility in New York.
Consider Your Legal Options
Those with dementia deserve to receive professional medical care, just like every other patient. When that doesn’t happen, you might sue for compensation if they are negligently injured.
Medical malpractice cases are also more challenging when a patient has dementia. One of the most important sources of evidence is the patient’s own memory. The patient might have conflicting memories, or no memory at all of what happened.
For example, misdiagnosis cases often turn on the symptoms a patient reports to a doctor. Doctors cannot guess what patients are feeling but instead rely in large part on self-reported symptoms to make a timely and accurate diagnosis. However, the doctor might have a radically different memory of what was said at the consultation than your loved one. It is easy to discount a dementia patient’s memory, which is unfair.
We work sensitively with our clients in full recognition of their cognitive situation. There should be sufficient evidence of the care your loved one received to identify medical mistakes. We go over patient records with a fine-tooth comb to determine what steps a provider took and which ones they neglected to perform. If you sat in on a doctor’s consultation, you could also provide testimony about the conversation between the patient and his or her doctor.
Where appropriate, we can file a claim for medical malpractice against a doctor, nursing home, hospital, or other facility. We can also seek to have a loved one transferred to a safer environment where they can hopefully receive compassionate care.
Speak with Our Syracuse Medical Malpractice Attorney
Powers & Santola, LLP is a prominent law firm helping those injured by medical negligence. We have seen the frustration family and friends feel when their loved ones are mistreated. Fortunately, legal help is available, and we can bring accountability to the process. If you have questions, please call our law firm to speak with a member of our medical malpractice team. We can also meet your loved one to review the situation, if necessary.