Tips for Caregivers

Warning Signs for Caregivers at Risk for Physically & Sexually Abusive Behavior

In 90% of all reported elder abuse cases, the abuser is a family member. Many of these family members are also caregivers. Researchers have estimated that anywhere from 5 - 23% of all caregivers are physically abusive. Most agree that this abuse occurrence is related to the stresses associated with providing care.

Some stress is normal. Some caregivers find certain behaviors to be particularly stressful, including aggression, combativeness, wandering and incontinence. Others report that they experience stress because they don't get enough rest, privacy, support or time for themselves.

Not all stressed caregivers are at risk for becoming abusive; however, if you are a caregiver, there are some signs red flags to look out for in both yourself, and the person for whom you are caring. If you notice any red flags, talk to someone and ask for help.

Caregiver Red Flags

  • Experiences emotional and mental burnout, anxiety or severe depression
  • Fears that he/she will become violent
  • Feels caught in the middle by providing care to children and elderly family members at the same time
  • Has old anger toward the care receiver that can be traced back to their relationship in the past
  • Perceives that he/she is not receiving adequate help or support from others
  • Suffers from low self esteem
  • Views caregiving as a burden

Older Adult Red Flags

  • Exhibits disturbing behaviors such as sexual "acting out" or embarrassing public displays
  • Is aggressive or combative
  • Is verbally abusive

What Caregivers Can Do if There Are Red Flags

  • Get help. Making use of social and support services, including support groups, respite care, home delivered meals, adult day care and assessment services can reduce the stress associated with abuse.
  • Learn to recognize their "triggers," those factors that cause them the greatest stress or anxiety.
  • Learn to recognize and understand the causes of difficult behaviors and techniques for handling them more effectively.
  • Develop relationships with other caregivers. Caregivers with strong emotional support from other caregivers are less likely to report stress or to fear that they will become abusive.
  • Get healthy. Exercise, relaxation, good nutrition and adequate rest have been shown to reduce stress and help caregivers cope.
  • Hire helpers. Attendants, chore workers, homemakers or personal care attendants can provide assistance with most daily activities. Caregivers who cannot afford to hire helpers may qualify for public assistance.
  • Plan for the future. Careful planning can relieve stress by reducing uncertainty, preserving resources and preventing crises. A variety of instruments exist to help plan for the future, including powers of attorney, advanced directives for health care, trusts and wills.

How to Report Suspected Elder Abuse

If you suspect elder abuse, call someone now! You do not have to be positive of the abuse, and you do not have to give your name. You are protecting someone from further harm by reporting elderly abuse or suspected elderly abuse.

If an elder is in danger now, call:

  • 911
  • Your State Elder Abuse Hotline