What Sort of Caregiver Abuses Elders with Dementia?

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • The simple answer to the question posed in the title is that caregivers who physically and mentally abuse people with dementia are people not unlike you and me. We all like to think we would never be unkind or cruel to people we care for and people we love or have loved. But given certain circumstances and situations it can push us over the limit of acceptable behavior towards those we are meant to care for.


    Because of the nature of elder abuse it is often hidden and is certainly an under reported crime. Most times we think.. ‘what sort of person is capable of such a terrible thing’? But anyone who has cared for someone who needs full time attention and who can do very little for themselves will know the task is very demanding. Coping with behavior that is often irrational is also very stressful and very demanding. In the middle and later stages of the disease someone with Alzheimer’s may not know who you are, will not help you, or even recognise you have needs and feelings.  

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    From the research that has been carried out we know that certain people in certain circumstances are more likely to be abusive. It may be helpful to see how many factors are relevant to your situation if you feel you are not treating a relative or client appropriately. Abuse is often the end result of a number of interlinking issues so there may not be just one cause but may be many contributing factors.


    • You may be stressed and anxious or you may have recently be diagnosed with a mental illness such as depression
    • You may be drinking too much alcohol
    • You may have been feeling angry and hostile.
    • You have often found yourself overwhelmed or had difficulty coping with the situations life throws at you
    • You may have suffered abuse yourself when you were a child


    Caregiving is a difficult job that we take on for many different reasons. Sometimes we are drawn blindly into it, sometimes women take on the role that they feel is expected of them, sometimes we feel we have no alternative. Family members are often expected to care for elders without seeking help from others. Lack of preparation, training and support, inadequate medical care and help from social agencies contribute to someone’s burden of care and lead to abuse. Teens and children as caregivers have a particularly difficult time and this can lead to abusive situations. The financial and emotional interdependence of spouses, children and relatives may also mean people feel they have little power to escape what they know is a damaging situation.


    Abuse does not just take place behind the curtains of a family home. It happens in institutions that are meant to provide professional care to elders with dementia. Care settings with unsympathetic or negative attitudes toward residents, chronic staffing problems, lack of administrative oversight, staff burnout, and stressful working conditions are all a risk factor for elder abuse.


    So what are the parameters of abuse? What are the red-flags that tell us we should seek help and support? I'll be looking at these issues in my next sharepost.


Published On: August 17, 2014