Caregiver issues and stress are cited as leading causes of elder abuse. Caregiver issues can lead to elder abuse in both institutional and residential care settings. While caregiver issues do not justify elder abuse, understanding that there is a problem and working through issues and stress in healthy ways may help caregivers to decrease the incidence of elder abuse.
Caregiver Abuse Facts
Approximately 29 percent of the United States population is comprised of individuals acting as unpaid caregivers to family members. The extra stress of caring for an elderly family member can lead to caregiver issues such as anxiety and psychological disorders. Caregivers may relieve this stress and anxiety in different ways, including drug abuse and elder abuse.
Cycle of Abuse
Mounting anxiety, coupled with drug abuse and other issues, may result in the caregiver beginning to abuse the elderly patient. Approximately 90 percent of elder abuse takes place in residential settings, with adult family members most often responsible for the abuse. Caregivers may begin to place blame on the patient for financial troubles and limited free time, and may feel that abuse is deserved. As the caregiver’s issues worsen with the unhealthy outlets, elder abuse may worsen.
Substance abuse can contribute to elder abuse in a number of ways. Caregivers may begin to steal medication from patients, causing the patient to suffer unnecessarily. Caregivers may also begin financially abusing the elderly patient in order to pay for drugs. Substance abuse can alter the caregiver’s personality, making the caregiver more likely to engage in physical or psychological abuse.
Types of home caregiver issues that may contribute to elder abuse include:
- Financial strain and limited resources
- Pre-existing psychological disorders
- Drug problems
- Overwhelming responsibilities
Facility Caregiver Issues
Nursing homes and other facilities are often understaffed. The stress of caring for too many patients, especially with limited help and resources, may contribute to paid caregiver issues. Paid caregivers often work unreasonable amounts of overtime, which may cause issues such as chronic fatigue. Limited time with patients and an overwhelming work load may cause paid caregivers to lose compassion for patients, and caregivers may begin to take frustrations out on patients.
Coping with Caregiver Issues
Caregivers can work to develop healthy coping mechanisms for issues that will help to prevent building frustration, and subsequently, help to prevent elder abuse. There are online support groups and resources, especially for unpaid caregivers, which can help by providing tips for taking care of elderly patients. Support groups may also help caregivers to manage negative feelings and other issues that may be psychological in nature.
Caregivers can also cope with frustration and other issues by:
- Focusing on personal physical and mental health
- Participating in stress reducing activities, such as yoga
- Seeking respite care from others to take a break from responsibilities
- Enrolling elderly patient in adult day care
- Identifying triggers to anxiety
- Developing systems to minimize stressful situations
- Seeking counseling for psychological issues
- Seeking rehabilitation services for substance abuse issues
Caregiver Warning Signs
Certain signs may indicate that caregiver issues are becoming overwhelming, and that the caregiver may begin to engage in elder abuse. In many cases, the caregiver will begin to develop an apathetic attitude towards caring for the patient. The caregiver may also identify the elderly patient or patients as a burden. Low self esteem, depression, and fears of becoming violent are also common among caregivers that become violent.
Preventing Elder Abuse
Elder abuse may be prevented by caregivers, patients, or outside individuals. If a caregiver seems to be having difficulty coping with issues, it may help for the patient to speak to the caregiver about any perceived abuse. An overwhelmed individual may not understand that the behavior is abusive. If the caregiver has become increasingly abusive, or has begun to engage in substance abuse, the patient may be able to contact an outside party or an attorney for advice and assistance.
“Elder Abuse and Neglect.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, n.d. Web. 26 Feb 2014. <http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/elder-abuse.asp&xgt;.
“Elder Abuse and Neglect.” HelpGuide.org. HelpGuide.org, n.d. Web. 26 Feb 2014. <http://www.helpguide.org/mental/elder_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm>.
“Elder Abuse.” National Institute on Aging. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Feb 2014. Web. 26 Feb 2014. <http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/elder-abuse>.