Caregiving and Elder Abuse

Caregiving and Elder Abuse
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was launched June 15, 2006. That this day is needed gives a hint to how widespread elder abuse is. Every year on June 15 the day is announced, but we don't see as much information as we could, perhaps because no one wants to admit that such a thing exists.

Are you responsible for the care of an elderly family member? If so, you know that being a caregiver can be mentally and emotionally challenging.

Elder abuse can arise as a continuation of a longstanding pattern of abuse within families. But more commonly, elder abuse occurs because of altered living arrangements and changes in the senior’s health, and the transformation of family dynamics as a result. It is a complex matter and often misunderstood. The adjustments a family member has to make as a caregiver can be staggering, not only to the caregiver, but other family members as well.

So how can you balance your own needs with those of the individual you care for?

Look for resources to help ease your daily care duties, before they become a burden. Try to find a way of giving yourself a break. Adult daycare might be one solution, or find someone to come in a few hours every week to help with difficult tasks or allow you to get away for a while.

Consider residential care if things are really getting out of hand and you need a respite. Though you may feel guilty, you need to look objectively at the situation. A good residential facility would probably be better than the compromised care you might give once you lose your ability to cope patiently with your elderly ward.

Do not be embarrassed to seek counseling if you need help with personal problems that may be contributing to your stress as a caregiver. It may take time, but you can learn new patterns of relating to the person you care for. Ask your doctor for a reference or help. If you cannot afford a private therapist, check with state and local mental health facilities, which usually offer free or sliding-scale-fee help. When my own dear mother refused to allow a daycare person to visit her, I spoke with her doctor, he spoke to my mother, only then did she acquiesce and say yes to the daycare worker. Be honest with yourself about the situation at hand. Denying that you are overwhelmed can lead to serious problems—and possibly put someone’s health or life in danger.

Do you need help? Signs you may need help as a caregiver:

  • You had a poor relationship with the individual prior to being the caregiver.
  • You’re always curt and impatient with the individual.
  • You view your new role as a burden.
  • You feel burned out, stressed out, or depressed.
  • You lose your temper often.
  • You ignore the wants and needs of your elder.

For guidance on a local level, check the government sections of your telephone directory. Look for “Aging Services” or “Social Services” for organizations that assist the elderly. For more information, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse in Washington, DC site

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