Calming The Storm Of Caregiver Stress To Prevent Elder Abuse

Updated February 17, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that may be triggering to sensitive individuals.

If you are experiencing violence or neglect, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Call 911 or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Are You Hitting A Wall As A Caregiver?

According to the United Nations, the population of people aged 60 years are older is approaching 1 billion people, comprising at least 13% of the global population. The world’s rapidly aging population is projected to comprise one quarter of its population by the year 2050 in nearly all regions of the world, excepting Africa. On top of these growing numbers is the predominant desire of elders to stay at home as they near the end of life, necessitating a great demand for home-based care and caregivers. 

AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) reports that 90% of adults aged 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 are increasingly stepping up to care for the elders in their families or they are hiring in-home caregivers to allow aging adults to stay in the comfort of their own home. If there is "storm and stress" in adolescence experiencing turmoil and difficulty, there is also stress in caregiving that can lead to burnout. This can place fragile seniors at risk of maltreatment. In this article, at the different types of elder abuse are defined along with some ways to identify if this type of abuse is taking place and ways to safeguard elders. 

Aging In Place And Family Caregiving

Staying in your own home as you get older is currently referred to as “aging in place”. Most seniors want to live out their golden years surrounded by their neighbors, friends, and familiar communities, remaining as independent as possible for as long as they possibly can. 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.

However, staying in the home as a person ages comes with certain risks, especially safety, ease of mobility, and accomplishing daily tasks. As the health of an aging person declines, they may require additional help, such as a caregiver that can assist them either part-time or round the clock. While many caregivers provide excellent care of the people who are dependent upon them for services, there are those who will mistreat the elderly and, in some cases, severe abuse occurs. There is no excuse for the maltreatment of another person. Nonetheless, there has been research that has reported a link between caregiver burnout and abuse of elders. 

What Are The Caregiving Stressors That Lead To Burnout?

In recent years, the number of people who are aging and in need of care is increasing due to advances in healthcare and the generation known as “baby boomer” reaching retirement. For many of them, their adult children are honoring their wishes to let them age in place and are taking on the role of caregiver. While caring for their elderly parents, they also may be working full-time, caring for their own families, and managing their own households. 

Caregiver burnout is relatively common in those who routinely help and is characterized by mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that can lead to a loss of compassion and empathy. Burnout often occurs when caregiving falls on only one person and they are limited by financial or physical resources. One major cause of this burnout is due to the caregiver not taking the time to care for themselves which leads to exhaustion and poor mental health. Other factors that may cause burnout include:

  • Lack of control over resources (i.e., financial)

  • Lack of trained caregiving skills and coping strategies

  • Unrealistic expectations, (i.e., wanting their care to have a positive effect on elders’ health and happiness)

  • Unreasonable demands 

Additionally, a caregiver may not even know they are experiencing burnout and are unable to recognize the need for an external support system, such as mental health therapy. 

In some cases, a senior in need of care is being taken care of by their spouse who may be healthier or younger. You might think that a spousal caregiver poses less risk for causing harm than an adult child caregiver, but that is not 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 into 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 is easy to see how these kinds of issues can quickly fuse together to create the perfect storm.

Are You Hitting A Wall As A Caregiver?

Signs Of Caregiver Burnout That May Lead To Elder Abuse

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 may 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 is important for senior caregivers to get support and practice regular self-care. If they are unable to get support, there are several resources available, such as caregiver support groups and individual mental health therapy. 

If you are experiencing violence or neglect, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Call 911 or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are experiencing signs of burnout or are having thoughts of harm, reach out for help today by calling National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or dial/text 988.

Types Of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is defined as the physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse of an elderly individual. It can also include financial abuse, exploitation, or neglect.

Physical Abuse

This 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.

Verbal, Psychological, Or Emotional Abuse

This consists of 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.

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 

Financial abuse occurs when caregivers 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.

Signs Of Elder Abuse

According to the National Council on Aging, elderly abuse statistics reveal that only 1 in 14 elder abuse incidents are reported. 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.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is a type of elder abuse and neglect that often goes unnoticed. It is 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 cannot 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 is 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 the wealth and estates of aging seniors.

Getting Help While Aging In Place

Home care technology can be a welcomed resource of support in the senior caregiving space. Helpful senior care devices and systems are being utilized 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 receiving care. 

Since many elders have trouble with mobility and lack transportation options, online counseling from a licensed or certified professional is a highly beneficial solution to supporting seniors who are experiencing isolation, depression, anxiety, or those who have other needs. In fact, a study published in the journal Aging And Society, reported that older clients who receive online mental health therapy show the same improvement in well-being as younger people. The study consisted of 277 British patients over the age of 65 who were experiencing depression and anxiety. Over two and a half years, 65% of the older patients who were managing anxiety and depression reported clinical improvement, with 49% showing recovery from their disorders altogether. 

Online counseling connects elders 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 is 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.

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.

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