Elder abuse is a difficult topic for anyone to discuss. We don't like to think about elder abuse as a reality, but unfortunately, a comprehensive studyby the University of Chicago revealed that approximately 13% of older Americans are mistreated either verbally, financially, or physically.
In the study, among those who reported verbal abuse, 26% reported being abused by a spouse or partner, and 15% reported being abused by an adult child. However, among those who reported financial abuse, 57% reported being abused by someone other than a spouse, partner, or child, such as a different relative. The bottom line is that although the majority of elder abuse cases do not involve children caring for their parents, it does happen enough to warrant concern among caregivers and families.
Red Flags for Caregivers
When caregivers such as adult children abuse their parents, it is often a result of extreme caregiver stress. Learning about the red flags that often precede abuse can help caregivers prevent abuse in the first place. The National Center on Elder Abuserecommends that caregivers watch for the following signs:
- Fear of becoming violent;
- Feelings of caregiver burden, burnout, depression, anxiety, or a desperate feeling of being stuck; and
- Residual anger toward the parent because past conflict.
Elder abuse by caregivers is also more common when they live with the parent and when the parent is physically aggressive or verbally abusive toward the caregiver. Luckily, there are things to do to make sure red flags don't escalate into elder abuse.
Coping Tips for Caregivers
If you recognize some of the red flags that signal extreme caregiver stress that could lead to elder abuse, there are steps you can take to prevent an unfortunate situation:
Find outside help. All caregivers need regular breaks from caregiving responsibilities in order to avoid burnout. Call your local Area Agency on Aging and find out what support services are available in your area, such as home health care and adult day care.
Learn strategies to manage your triggers. What situations are most difficult for you as a caregiver? Helping your parent in the bathroom? Responding to behaviors such as aggression? Attend a caregiver support group near you to learn strategies for handling these situations.
Find emotional support. Whether you find strength from local friends, a neighborhood support group, or online communities, be sure to find a group of people that you can confide in - especially other caregivers who understand what you are going through.
Take good care of yourself. Caregivers run the risk of becoming extremely run down, which can lead to short tempers and overreactions. Be sure to get enough rest, eat well, and exercise in order to be able to react to difficult situations in the best way possible.
By taking these steps, you're helping yourself as a caregiver and your parent as a care receiver. Please share your thoughts with the community about this difficult topic. Post a comment to this blog, and be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed to receive regular updates about new topics.
Carrie L. Hill, Ph.D