Caregiver Abuse – How to Deal With Mistreatment When Caring for a Loved One

In previous column posts, I discussed elder abuse as well as the burnout that caregivers may experience that might lead them to be neglectful or abusive. In this post, I want to discuss the abuse that caregivers can experience by those who depend on them for care.

Caregiving can be a rewarding yet complex relationship filled with a wide range of emotions. Because of its demanding nature, most caregivers have moments when they feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, some caregivers are mistreated and made to feel as if they are responsible for the care receiver’s misery.

The abuse can result from feelings of resentment over having to be dependent on care, such as when the individual receiving care is elderly, disabled, or terminally ill.

Abusive behaviour can also occur when the care receiver is paranoid, agitated, disoriented, as is often the case in individuals who are not mentally stable or are suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Often the abuse of caregivers tends to happen in a family setting and thus tends to go unreported. As with other abused individuals, the abused caregiver may not even realize that there is any abuse going on. Caregivers tend to be women – typically, daughters, daughters-in-law, and wives or partners – and may be socialized to believe that some of the abusive behaviour comes with the territory or that it is actually her fault.

Unfortunately, although there are many safeguards to protect various care receivers against abuse, the same considerations are often not given to caregivers.

If you are receiving abuse and feel overwhelmed, reach out to trusted family members who might be able to intervene and share the care load.

If you feel that you are in an unsafe environment, sometimes the only option might be to consider transferring the care receiver to a care facility. This will allow him or her to receive long-term care in an environment where professionals are better equipped to deal with the abusive behaviour. You will still be able to be involved in the person’s life, but you will be in a safer environment.

If you work in a care facility and are receiving abuse, inform your supervisors about the abuse. Your facility may not have any measures in place, you may need to liaise with co-workers as you’re likely not the only person receiving abuse. A greater number of complaints will pressure your facility into being proactive about protecting you.

Learn to recognize the signs of abuse and reach out for support. This might mean reaching beyond the family and contacting your local crisis centres that deal with abuse. Although you are dealing with a vulnerable person, there is no excuse to be mistreated. Abuse should not be considered as a normal aspect of a caregiver’s life.

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