Caregivers Can Be Abused Too

30 Comments

An appalling number of care receivers are abused, exploited and neglected. All too often, this maltreatment happens at the hands of their caregivers. Studies conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reveal that more than 1 in 10 elder care recipients report having suffered physical, sexual or emotional neglect. This doesn’t include other forms of abuse, such as financial exploitation.

A large number of care receivers live in their own home or that of a family member. Sadly, family caregiver abuse offenses account for 90 percent of all cases. The overwhelming majority of those who file reports are women. The elderly or disabled person often does not want to create trouble for their family members, so it is estimated that only 1 in 14 cases are reported to authorities. For every identified instance of care receivers being abused, it is believed that an equal number of caregivers are mistreated as well.

What happens in the family stays in the family.

People vary in their ability to engage in and maintain positive relationships, and not all seniors and disabled individuals are kind and loving. People can react to being dependent on another person by resenting their caregiver and acting out in abusive ways. If there were previous issues within a relationship, these can become magnified with the stress of illness and disability. Oftentimes there was already a pattern of domestic abuse that becomes intensified with the pain and frustration of illness or disability. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia can cause changes in behavior and mood, agitation, and even violent reactions in some situations.

Abuse of caregivers also tends to happen within the home by family members and is frequently kept private and unreported. Women, usually spouses, daughters, or daughters-in-law, most frequently assume the caregiver role and are thus more likely to be targets. Evidence supports the health risks related to mistreatment of aging caregivers.

While there are many protections and safety nets for elderly and disabled individuals who file reports, the same is not true for caregivers. I contacted Adult Protective Services in two local counties and found that there are no services for caregivers who are being abused, short of reporting the incident to the police. Even if the caregiver will file a police report, they are subject to an investigation that may come down to a “he said, she said” situation, and the elderly or disabled person is more likely to receive sympathy and support.

Distance may be the only option.

I’m left to wonder what recourse there is for a caregiver in this difficult situation. There are not many options short of redefining their caregiving duties and physically separating from the aggressor. No one should live in a violent or unsafe environment, even if the antagonist is vulnerable. The only option may be to move the person being cared for into a long-term care facility where professionals can handle these unacceptable behaviors. If the behaviors are aimed at specific family members, then make sure to limit or eliminate interaction with these targets. Sometimes home care services will help the situation, but the care recipient may transfer their negative focus to the professional care provider. This can result in a constant turnover of outside employees and home care agencies, which can add to caregiver stress.

The caregiver can still play a role in the care team, but distance may be needed to minimize, if not eliminate, the conflict or abuse. With the elder or disabled person in a safe (but more distant) environment, the caregiver can set the boundaries necessary to give care without being mistreated.

Sandy Morris was married for 32 years and was her disabled husband's caregiver for the last 15 years of their marriage. Working in the senior services sector for the last three years, her experiences on both sides of the caregiver equation allow her to provide valuable information on everything from VA benefits to common caregiver challenges.

War Veterans Association of Colorado

View full profile

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!

30 Comments

In my situation the abuse was emotional, directed at me by out of state siblings. Of course I realize there are always 2 (or more) sides to any story....but after the dust settles, what really matters is what is put in writing, what is videotaped, and what you have 2 or more witnesses saying the same thing. When there are out of state, or out-of-touch, siblings, just because they are "family" means literally nothing.
These siblings might believe they have some "status" in the scenario, merely because they might be beneficiaries to the estate.
But while the seniors are still alive, the seniors, or their designated POA, get to decide.
In my case the siblings have given me quite horrible treatment, before and now after parents have both passed away, and are throwing the estate into probate (where it has no business being) just to spite me.
This is emotional abuse, and their actions are also harming the entire estate---in other words, they are going to get less money from the estate because of their own actions.
It is truly sad what happens in some families.
My photo shows what happened to me as the caregiver for my MIL. In addition to being accused of stealing (not ever true), I was kicked, punched, had teeth knocked out, my lip split and then she would tell everyone I hit her. I never did.
If I knew how I was going to be treated by her when she lived in my house, I never would have done it. They were the worst 9 years of my life. The split lip in my profile photo is from when she hit me in the mouth with her walker, I lost my balance, fell to the floor where she continued to pummel me with same walker until my husband pulled her off of me. If you are being abused, tell the abuser's doctor. Police won't come to arrest a 96 year old but telling your therapist and telling her doctor (take pictures as well) will prove you are being abused and not the abuser. Caregiving is hell on earth if you get someone like this.
I am primary caregiver for my 88 yo mother...have been for many years. With her deterioration, she lashes out in a more aggressive manner. I have no support from mom's doctor at all. Vna services come in and out. The last time, over the summer, they all, except the psychiatric nurse (mom is very good at manipulating situations) saw the real situation I'm living in. Their only advise....let mom do whatever she wants...even if dangerous, until the next er or hospital visit. Then refuse to bring her home. Let the social worker at hospital place her. Until then....keep as much distance as possible. The house is half moms and half mine. She refuses to honor any boundaries and corners me in my part of yhe house. Typically its to try and get a fight going. I've learned to put my hand up in stop position and refuse to discuss further. Refusing to fight with her only works if i can walk away...not often. Im trapped in a no win, no way out living environment.