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home | Caregiver Support | Seniors Who Abuse Their Caregivers

Seniors Who Abuse Their Caregivers

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For every identified case of elder abuse we are convinced that there are at least as many seniors abusing a caregiver. This abuse is rarely recognized outside the caregiving circle, and caregivers who are being abused on a daily basis are desperate for support and resources they can't find or are afraid to ask for.

Jack has always been a yeller, a screamer and a curser. His wife and children have walked on eggshells for years. Jack refuses to allow his elderly wife to leave the house for more than an hour and he monitors her spending to the penny. He refuses to use the toilet, preferring his bedside commode, which he insists be emptied and cleaned after every (frequent) use.

Carol Lee's mother thrives on attention. When she fell recently and was bruised up pretty badly, she convincingly told the doctor in the emergency room that Carol Lee pushed her. Carol Lee is being investigated, and her mother will not recant.

John's parents told John and Liz that they would inherit the family home if they would move in to help their parents in their declining years. His mother has a "seizure" and threatens to change her will every time they try to get away for a few hours.

These brief vignettes ignore the small bits of abuse that occur daily in caregiver's lives: the dinners thrown against the wall, the obsessive phone calls at work, the raised fists and punches, the foul language, the unreasonable demands that jeopardize jobs and families.

Caregivers can easily be placed at risk for illness, injury, financial devastation and serious legal problems because of abusive elders. While women are most usually the victims, men can also be victims of abuse by a care receiver.

Not all our seniors are sweet and loving, and not all parents were good parents. The advice we so often read that we should be glad to care for our aging parents because they cared for us when we were small is often very bad advice. Yes, the Christian Bible does admonish us to honor our parents. It doesn't demand that we directly care for someone who places us in legal jeopardy or is likely to injure our mental or physical health.

We can, however, honor our parents by seeing to it that they receive the care they need...if they will permit it.

Seniors who are abusing their caregivers will rarely stop on their own. However twisted, the abusive senior is receiving some kind of emotional reward for bad behavior. Whether the cause is dementia, mental illness, or simply a lifelong history of nasty behavior, we must be the ones to take steps to improve our situation.

If your elder is violent, use the system. The next time he or she raises a fist or actually strikes you, call the police. You MUST begin to create an official record of what is happening behind closed doors. Calling the police will put your elder on notice that such behavior will no longer be tolerated, no matter how "sick" he or she is.  If the police offer to have your elder taken in for an emergency assessment, accept. This may be the only way you can get an unwilling senior to see a doctor. This is a long shot, but worth pursuing.

Without regard to whether your senior would "accept it," think about your alternatives. Is there agency help available to come to your parent regularly? Is it time to begin thinking about other living arrangements? If you're at a loss, call your local Area Agency on Aging. You can find the closest office by calling 800.677.1116 or use the Eldercare.gov search function. These people have seen it before, they know the resources in your area and they can be extremely helpful.

If your family is involved and supportive, call a family meeting to discuss options. If they aren't involved, understanding and supportive, then you're best to forge ahead on your own.

Especially if you're on your own, look for some emotional support. A few sessions with a good family therapist will help you define what your mountains are, and what are molehills. You can strategize together about how to confront the mountains. If you work for a large company, check with your Employee Assistance Plan. If you don't, and you need to find somewhere with a sliding fee scale that you can afford, call a church (one you're not affiliated with if you want privacy), 211 if your community has local referral assistance, or even the counselor at your local high school.

If you need more after talking with your AoA, consider investing in at least one meeting with a geriatric care manager. If there is a GCM practicing in your area you will have a fantastic resource to tap into. If your parent(s) will permit, a GCM can also meet with them to make an independent assessment and give you valuable advice about how to pull back, which is always extremely helpful. If your funds will stretch, turning some of the daily care management over to a GCM can spare you much grief. A GCM will help you walk through the unacceptable minefield of a parent who will not allow anyone but you to provide care. To get through this particular minefield successfully you will need all the support you can get.

Parents who are abusive are wholly self-centered and do not know what is in their best interest. Nothing you do will ever be enough, and you cannot sacrifice your health to save them from aging. The only thing we can change is how we respond to an abusive situation.

The articles listed below should give you more valuable information about managing the care of a senior who is abusive.


·  ADEAR: One of the Things Our Government Gets Right
·  Four Certain Ways to Know When It's Time To Stop: Signs That Caring For a Senior is Causing More Harm Than Good
·  Five Ways to Manage Difficult Elders
·  What Your Area Agency on Aging Can Do For You
·  Caring For a Difficult, Unpleasant Parent
·  Caring For Someone Who is Always Angry