The baby boomers were a generation of people who are known as movers and shakers. At this late stage of life, the baby boomer generation is taking the lead in establishing a new trend towards aging in place. While today’s elders are happily remaining home longer, the vast majority of seniors need assistance at some point later in life. Sadly, bringing caregivers into the home has led to a new problem that connects caregiver stress and elder abuse.
As the in-home caregiver workforce grows, there is an increasing awareness of the stress of being a caregiver and its relationship to elderly abuse. Programs are springing up in response for the cry to meet the needs of caregivers who need respite and support.
How Prevalent is Caregiver Stress and Elder Abuse?
Researchers estimate that at least 4 million older adults become victims of neglect or elderly abuse at the hands of their caregivers each year. While that is a high number, researchers suspect that the true number is actually about 20 times larger because caregivers are afraid to self-report being abusive to a fragile elder. Caring People’s article covers in depth the topic.
Elderly abuse may take several forms including:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Financial exploitation
- Healthcare fraud and abuse
Caregivers often encounter “problem pile-up” when trying to manage all the duties of their own lives along with providing senior caregiving. Caregivers often get tossed into the role of caregiving after a medical emergency. Stress takes hold as they deal with financial problems, caregiver inexperience, and lack of social support.
Caregiver Stress and Elder Abuse: Burnout is the Culprit
Burnout causes severe mood changes and caregivers become worn down to the point that their reactions and thinking are not clear. Caregivers are physically and emotionally drained. Seniors sometimes compound the stress of being a caregiver when they have unintentional problem behaviors like verbal aggression, physical aggression, refusing to take medicines, calling the police, refusing to eat, or acting out with embarrassing behaviors. These types of behaviors can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, leading to elderly abuse.
Certain factors indicate increased risks for elder abuse. Caregivers that work in excess of 20 hours have a higher risk of abusing elders than caregivers working less hours. Home health agencies employ professional caregivers who often work overtime or take on extra shifts because of understaffing. Overwork leads to chronic fatigue, sleeplessness, and exhaustion, placing seniors at risk for neglect or abuse.
Care for the Caregivers
Senior caregivers need to be aware of the stress of being a caregiver and how burnout can lead to risks of elder abuse. Often it just takes a few hours of respite or adding another caregiver to relieve some of the primary caregiver’s duties to get things back on track. Caregivers need to take time out for themselves so they can provide optimal caregiving duties.
It’s worth saying that many caregivers manage the stress of being a caregiver for many years without risk of abusing their clients. Caregivers who know the risks of elder abuse can head off any issues before they become abusive by asking for help and support.
It’s never okay to abuse an elderly person in any form. Caregivers who feel over-stressed may need to take a short or long break from caregiving if they are at risk of making a connection between caregiver stress and elder abuse.
It is important that the caregiver gets support and can overcome stress and burnout to provide quality of care for the elderly. There are many ways to overcome stress such as: taking some days of to do an activity that the caregiver enjoy. The outdoor activities such as: going to the beach, going to a park, make a small trip, etc. are better because provide to the caregiver a new air and a sensation of happiness. Last but no least support groups can really make a huge difference in dealing with stress.