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Dementia and the Accusation of Sexual Assault


On a recent phone call to The Seasons where Mom resides, the staff member I was talking to and who knows Mom well, said, “May I ask you a personal question, Vic?”


“Fire away,” I answered.


“Was your Mom ever sexually assaulted in her lifetime?”


Yikes!


Evidently, Mom is accusing a male resident of sexually assaulting her. I have never run into such a thing with Mom before, so I was more than a little taken aback by this question.


The only time I experienced something of an inappropriate sexual nature was when a male resident (at another Residence I was interviewing) made an inappropriate gesture towards me. The staff was well trained and squashed his advances immediately.


I am now learning this inappropriate behavior, as well as sexual allegations, can be quite common among dementia patients. I was not aware of this, so I did some reading about it. Unfortunately, the four articles I read, were not impressive to me because I found almost all of them were bias towards the accuser rather than the accused.


My horrifying thought was, “What if my Mom was accused unduly of sexual assault?” I would want a fair-minded inquiry!


One article described a woman visiting a memory care facility. I will call the woman “Jane”. Jane witnessed a female resident walking to the front lobby area crying and looking frightened. She was talking aloud to no one. Jane approached her and asked what was wrong. She said she was just raped. She said the person was still in her room and she was frightened to go back there.


Jane responded to the situation immediately and took the accusation seriously. She stopped a staff member and relayed the incident. The staff member smiled and said, "This happens all the time. There is nothing to be concerned about.”


There are two ways of looking at this response. One is, in defense of the staff member, he or she, knows the resident better than Jane. On the other hand, legitimate shock holds similar symptoms. The woman exhibited being frightened and bewildered. In this case, thankfully, her claim turned out to be false.


Another article talked about how sexual accusations can surface because of childhood abuse or sexual trauma during their lifetime. In my Mom’s case, neither is true.


Another article pointed out that Elder Care Residences have family members, contractors, outside visitors, and staff coming and going at all times. In other words, there are many people besides residents in a building at one time.


If a situation comes up involving your loved one, my recommendation would be to go to the person in charge and ask neutral questions calmly and coherently, such as :


* “What is your protocol if a resident claims to have been raped?

* “Do you have cameras in the common areas of this facility?”

* “Do you document all accusations?”

* “What do you know about the accused?”

* “What is your experience with my loved one?”

* “Does the manager/staff know both the accuser and the accused well?”

* “Has this residence ever had a documented case of rape or sexual assault?”


Let the manager answer your questions, and then allow them the time to investigate. This could take 5 seconds, 10 minutes, 3 days, or a month; however, I would make sure they know and understand you do expect an investigation into the matter. If your loved one lives with you, I am confident you can make a determination quickly and accurately.


Of the four articles I read, not one case of accusation turned out to be true. This does not mean rape or sexual assault does not exist in Elder Care Residences, it just means that the probability of an incidence like this happening is slight. Remember, we are dealing with dementia, severe cognitive impairment. We need to keep it holstered before arbitrarily firing off shots.



What Is True For Me


After pondering Mom’s accusation, I came up with two ideas that might cause her to accuse someone of sexual assault.


First, no one would argue that Mom has been a very controlling woman throughout her lifetime, God love her. Maybe her current righteousness is simply an inherent way of her controlling something in her deteriorated state of mind? Or secondly, maybe she has guilt from a sexual event that is now resurfacing and taking the form of an accusation?


If Mom ever says anything to me about being attacked, I will use the same phrasing the staff uses at The Seasons, i.e., “Thank you for telling me this, Mom, I will absolutely look into it. In the meantime, just politely avoid that person.”


I do not say, “You’re full of crap, Mom, none of this is true so just stop it!” Not only is this incredibly disrespectful and disrespectful to her dignity, but argumentative and confrontational comments are never a good avenue.


My advice: Listen. Proceed with caution and objectivity. Do your due diligence. And you will find the truth.

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