Calming The Storm Of Caregiver Stress To Prevent Elder Abuse

By Sarah Fader |Updated May 23, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Audrey Kelly, LMFT

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.

Things are changing in the world of elder care, just as they are in other facets of our lives. Elderly people are living longer than ever before, but it doesn't change the fact that their health continues to decline. According to AARP, 90% of adults age 50 and older prefer to age in place in the homes they love rather than move to an assisted living or nursing home.

As a result, family members are increasingly stepping up to care for the elders in their families, in addition to managing their own daily living responsibilities. Often, they are unaware of how stressful senior caregiving is until they've served some time in that role. Making matters worse, they don't know that senior care help exists or where to find it.

Chronic caregiver stress can lead to burnout, which places fragile seniors at risk of maltreatment. We will take a look at the different types of elder abuse and some ways to detect it.

Aging in Place and Family Caregiving

As the health of elders declines, they may require additional help. However, most seniors want to remain as independent as possible for as long as they possibly can.

No one wants to move away from the home they love unless they have a joyful reason for moving somewhere special. Most seniors want to live out their golden years surrounded by their neighbors, friends, and familiar communities.

Cost is another factor that solidifies a senior's choice to remain in their homes. Many seniors have little or no mortgage, so even when they need in-home healthcare assistance, their limited incomes make staying home more affordable than moving to a senior care facility.

Family members are increasingly stepping up to the plate, unaware that caregiver stress and burnout can be pre-cursors to elder abuse.

Note: If you or someone you know is displaying symptoms of elder abuse, reach out for help at 1-800-799-7233. If you are experiencing signs of burnout or are having thoughts of harm, reach out for help today at 1-800-273-8255.

What Are the Caregiving Stressors That Lead to Burnout?

In recent years, the baby boomer generation is starting to enter the senior season of life. For many of them, their adult children are honoring their wishes to let them age in place. Adult children take on the task of caring for elderly parents in addition to working full-time, caring for their own families, and managing their own households.

You might think that a spousal caregiver poses less risk for causing harm than an adult child caregiver, but that isn't necessarily true. After a spouse's medical crisis, the other spouse needs to take over managing life and the home—many of them for the first time. Spouses often find out that caring for their spouse requires more hours than a full-time job, which places their own safety and well-being at risk.

Past relationships are a major factor in connecting caregiver stress with maltreatment. Sometimes adult children cave in to unreasonable caregiving demands by their parents or siblings. Adult children who need to move in with aging parents to care for them may feel resentful and/or guilty, especially if family relations were stressed before formal caregiving began.

Spouses who were unhappy or harmed during the marriage may use the season of spousal caregiving as a time for vengeance toward a fragile, helpless spouse.

It's easy to see how these kinds of issues can quickly fuse together to create the perfect storm.

Are All Senior Caregivers at Risk of Causing Harm?

When put in a position that can lead to a state of complete and utter exhaustion, anyone is capable of inappropriate and even harmful behavior. Senior caregiving is physically, emotionally, and mentally draining, especially when caregiving is long-term. Senior caregivers report the following symptoms of eldercare burnout:

  • Depression
  • Negative attitude
  • Weakened immune system
  • Lack enjoyment of things they formerly enjoyed
  • Constant fatigue
  • Hopelessness
  • Isolation, withdrawal from friends and society
  • Sleeplessness
  • Inconsistent eating habits
  • Anger toward the senior

Caregivers that feel burned out may unintentionally make poor decisions. Many of them seek escapist behaviors, which can lead to alcohol or substance use as a means of coping with stress.

Because of the demanding nature of senior caregiving, it's ultra-important for senior caregivers to get support and practice regular self-care.

What is Elder Abuse? What Are the Types of Elder Abuse?

What is the definition of elder abuse and who should be concerned about it? We define elder abuse as physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse of an elderly individual. Elder abuse definitions can also include financial abuse, exploitation, or neglect.

The definition of elder abuse as it pertains to physical abuse includes hitting, kicking, shoving, punching, pinching, or otherwise causing physical pain to an elderly person. Tying someone to a wheelchair or bed, locking them in a room for long periods, or intentionally mismanaging medications is also considered physical abuse.

What is elder abuse in a verbal, psychological, or emotional sense? It's any action that includes yelling, threatening, taunting, name-calling, using profanity, and ridiculing or talking down to the senior. Intentionally ignoring the elder and being overly controlling are also examples of abuse.

What is the elder abuse definition of sexual abuse? Sexual abuse means being forced to have sexual contact with another person, including rape. Sexual abuse can include forcing an elder to take their clothing off, watch pornography with them without their consent, or initiating unwanted sexual contact.

Financial abuse refers to caregivers who steal the elder's money, property, bank accounts or charge cards without the elder's permission. Unethical caregivers who forge an elder's signature, or overcharge for home repair or medical services are guilty of financial abuse. Elders are especially vulnerable as their cognitive abilities decline. Seniors with deteriorating health can fall prey to dishonest caregivers who change legal documents like wills and powers of attorney without their consent.

What Are the Signs of Elder Abuse?

According to the National Council on Aging, elderly abuse statistics show that only about 1 in 14 elder abuse incidents gets reported. A MetLife report cites elder abuse statistics that show elder abuse costs about $2.6 billion in the U.S. annually.

Are you confident that you could detect the signs of elderly abuse and neglect in a senior citizen? Detection is challenging because the effects of illness in the aging population make it difficult to know if changes are due to Alzheimer's disease, dementia, or the general effects of aging.

Physical Abuse

When tending to a senior's personal care needs, take note of any unusual or unexplained burns, cuts, bruises or bleeding. Take special note of any sprained or broken bones, especially if you notice that injuries are occurring over and over. Be especially suspect if the elder seems fearful about seeing a doctor about his or her wounds, which could also be a sign of elder abuse and neglect.

Note: If you are experiencing violence or neglect, do not hesitate to reach out for help at 1-800-799-7233.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is a type of elder abuse and neglect that often goes unnoticed. It's easier for caregivers to hide psychological abuse. Look for signs that the elder is scared or withdrawn. People who experience elder abuse and neglect may try to self-soothe by rocking back and forth, sucking on items, or mumbling to themselves. An elder who often seems depressed, confused or suddenly loses interest in things, could be subject to elderly abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Senior caregiving is personal in nature. It requires trust between the elder and the caregiver, which develops over time. Because senior caregivers spend much time alone with elders, there is risk of sexual abuse. Those who care for elders should take note of torn or bloody clothing, especially underwear. Any bleeding from the anus, vagina, or penis that can't be medically explained is a cause for concern.

Bruises that appear on both sides of the body or around the breasts and genitals could also be signs of sexual abuse. If a senior has sudden itching or discharge, it's a good idea to ask the elder's physician to test for sexually transmitted diseases, which could indicate the presence of elder abuse.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse often goes undetected. The best defense against financial abuse is accountability. Having more than one person manage and oversee expenses and allocations can go a long way toward protecting the wealth and estates of aging seniors.

Getting Help While Aging in Place

Home care technology has entered the senior caregiving space with gusto. Helpful senior care devices and systems are being welcomed by elders and caregivers, alike. Elders and caregivers both need support, and fortunately, there are support entities that can accommodate both the caregiver and the elder in question.

Since many elders have trouble with mobility and lack transportation options, online counseling from a licensed or certified professional is the perfect solution to supporting seniors who are experiencing isolation, depression, anxiety, or those who have other needs. Online counseling, gives elders access to a personal therapist who can offer them assistance right in their homes, where they are comfortable and relaxed.

Have you considered that online counseling can help ease the stress of senior caregivers? When a senior is taking a nap or off to a doctor appointment with another caretaker, it's a perfect time for a session with an online counselor to talk about stress reduction techniques and suggestions for making caregiving more meaningful and enjoyable.

Counseling can also help seniors and their caregivers work out any relationship difficulties.

Celebrate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by Caring for the Caregiver

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations combined to establish World Elder Abuse Awareness Day yearly on June 15th. The purpose of this day is to promote a better understanding and awareness of the demographics that affect elder abuse and neglect.

No one is immune to the effects of elder abuse and neglect, including family caregivers. Seniors and their caregivers can commemorate this day by giving themselves the gift of self-care. Online counseling gives them the opportunity to do that by meeting them right where they are.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For More Help and Support With Abuse.
Speak with a Licensed Abuse Counselor Today!
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.