June 6, 2011

It’s difficult to take care of a senior when he or she has many different needs, and it’s difficult to be elderly when age brings with it infirmities and dependence. Both the demands of caregiving and the needs of the elder can create situations in which abuse is more likely to occur.
Throughout the world, abuse and neglect of older adults remains under-recognized or treated as an unspoken problem; yet every year, an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect, according to the American Psychological Association’s Office on Aging. The good news is there is something that can be done about it: listen, intervene and educate. Knowledge is definitely power in the case of elder abuse.

Who is at Risk?
Many nonprofessional caregivers — spouses, adult children, other relatives and friends — find taking care of a senior a satisfying and enriching experience. But on the flip side, the responsibilities and demands of senior caregiving, which escalate as the senior’s condition deteriorates, can also be extremely stressful.
The stress of senior care can lead to mental and physical health problems that make caregivers feel burned out, impatient, and unable to keep from lashing out against the senior in their care. This is when there is a heightened risk of elder abuse. If you or someone you know exhibits any of the following characteristics, these are warning signs that there is a higher risk of senior abuse:
• Inability to cope with stress (lack of resilience)
• Depression, which is common among caregivers
• Lack of support from other potential caregivers
• The caregiver’s perception that taking care of the senior is burdensome and without psychological reward
• Substance abuse
Even caregivers in institutional settings can experience stress at levels that lead to elder abuse. Nursing home staff may be prone to elder abuse if they lack training, have too many responsibilities, are unsuited to caregiving, or work under poor conditions. In many cases, elder abuse, though real, is unintentional. Caregivers pushed beyond their capabilities or psychological resources may not mean to yell at, strike, or ignore the needs of the seniors in their care. This is when family and friends need to step in and educate and/or intervene.