Being a caregiver for the elderly can be a difficult and often stressful job, albeit very important and necessary. It can be hard for an individual to put aside their own problems and issues and focus on the care of their charge. Regardless of the situation, it is never acceptable for a caregiver to take their frustrations out on the person they are caring for. Unfortunately, there is a very real correlation between caregivers who are under stress and the occurrence of elder abuse.
Prevalence Of Elder Abuse
It is estimated that there are at least 4 million older adults that are abused or neglected each year. However, this number is difficult to determine due to the fact that most abuse is not reported. It is thought that for every reported abuse case of the elderly, over 20 more go unreported. The abuse can happen at home with family members, by in-home caregivers and within nursing home facilities. Abuse is often not reported by the victims because they are afraid, embarrassed or even are trying to protect their abuser when it is a loved one or family member.
How Caregiver Stress Leads To Elder Abuse
Caring for an elderly person, whether it is the care of a family member or in a professional capacity is a difficult job. It can be physically and emotionally draining. When this is combined with the caregiver’s own personal problems and stress, it can lead to a risk for elder abuse. Stress causes fatigue on the body and mind, making it more difficult for caregivers to cope with the pressures of caring for an elderly person. This may cause them to react in ways that are exaggerated, including verbal and physical abuse of their charges, or flee from their responsibilities and abuse the elderly person through neglect or abandonment.
Stress Risk Factors For Caregivers
There are some recognized risk factors that may lead to elder abuse. It is important to recognize that while some caregivers under stress may react abusively, many others are able to give excellent care even under stress. However, knowing what the risk factors are can help reduce the chance of elder abuse.
- Drug or alcohol dependency. A person with a drug or alcohol addiction may have a more difficult time effectively managing stress.
- Violent reactions. Any person who reacts violently when under pressure is at risk for becoming abusive to an elderly person.
- Poor relationship with elderly person. If the relationship between the caregiver and the elderly person is poor to begin with, there is a greater risk for abuse.
- Poor work environment. Professional caregivers in a nursing home or other facility that are subjected to high work loads and poor treatment are at a higher risk to become stressed and possibly abusive.
By watching carefully for risk factors and signs of elder abuse, many abusive situations for elderly can be avoided or quickly resolved. Caregivers that cannot handle the stress of caring for an elderly person need to be removed from the situation both for the protection of the older adult and for themselves.