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Caregiver Abuse

One of the leading causes of elder abuse is caregiver stress and other problems that prevent caregivers from properly caring for the elderly. Factors such as substance abuse or financial problems can lead to caregiver abuse of the elderly in both residential and institutional care settings. There is no excuse for elder abuse, but it must be understood that elder care is a very difficult and stressful responsibility, and not all caregivers are ready or equipped to properly care for the elderly. Working through issues of stress in healthy ways is an important step to helping caregivers reduce the likelihood of abuse.

Important Facts Regarding Caregivers and Abuse

Individuals who act as unpaid caregivers for family members make up almost 30% of the US adult population. The excessive stress and demands on caregivers can cause some to suffer from anxiety, depression, and psychological disorders. Different people have different ways of relieving this stress, and some turn to substance abuse or abuse of their elderly family members.

How the Abuse Begins

As anxiety and stress increases, caregivers may start to feel helpless and trapped in their situation. They may start to see their elderly family members as an unfair burden and begin to resent them when they require or request help. At this point, caregivers may intentionally or unintentionally commit abuse. This situation is common, and most elder abuse takes place in homes and is committed by adult family members. If the caregiver is also suffering from substance abuse and other problems, elder abuse is more likely or may be more severe.

Elder Abuse and Substance Abuse

There are different ways that substance abuse can cause or exacerbate elder abuse. For example, caregivers might start stealing medication, and this could cause the elderly person’s health to deteriorate. Some caregivers may also begin to steal money or financially abuse the elderly patient in order to pay for their drug addiction. Individuals who abuse drugs are also more likely to suffer from personality disorders and depression and this may make them more likely to commit abuse or neglect.

Abuse from Professional Caregivers

Nursing home staff may also begin abusing the elderly under certain circumstances. Many facilities are understaffed, and that additional stress and exhaustion may contribute to the abuse of the elderly. Most nursing facility staff members work long hours and may suffer from chronic fatigue, exhaustion, and lack of sleep.

Managing the Stress of Caregiving

Fortunately, there are healthy coping mechanism that can help caregivers better take care of themselves and the elderly. Online support groups and other resources are available for unpaid caregivers, and these can provide advice and assistance. Caregivers can better manage their negative feelings and stress by speaking with support groups or getting professional help.

Other ways to cope with caregiver stress include:

  • Stress reducing activities like exercise and yoga
  • Respite care in order to take a personal break
  • Adult day care
  • Counseling
  • Rehabilitation services for substance abuse

Warning Signs for Caregivers

There are some indicators that the caregiver relationship is becoming unhealthy and may lead to abuse. If you notice these signs, you should immediately start asking for help or support from others. They include:

  • Depression
  • Low self esteem
  • Apathetic attitude towards caring for the elderly
  • Resentful attitude towards family member
  • Viewing the individual as a burden

Ways to Prevent Abuse

If a caregiver is beginning to abuse someone, it is important that friends, family, the patient, and others talk to them about the abuse. Sometimes abuse beings unintentionally, and the caregiver may not be aware. If it continues, the abuse should be reported and the patient should be removed from his care.


“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>.

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