Dealing With a Senior Who Abuses a Family Caregiver

There is something of a cliché that people tend to be tougher or harder on people they love than they are on strangers. This type of conduct can prove to be quite evident at times in regard to the manner in which some seniors treat their family caregivers. 

Age and illness can bring forth an array of different types of emotions. These include:

  • Sadness
  • Frustration
  • Fear 
  • Anger

In some cases, seniors are laboring under deeper problems that exacerbate their emotions and moods. These strong feelings can result in abusive behavior that oftentimes is centered on their caregivers. 

We have all heard and read about the dangers of elder abuse. There is a serious issue of abuse by seniors that is directed toward family caregivers. This type of abuse is largely unaddressed. The grim reality is that caregiver abuse is quite common. In this article, we discuss basic issues associated with situations in which seniors abuse their family caregivers. These essential issues are:

  • Why do seniors turn on their family caregivers?
  • How to cope with abuse as a caregiver
  • Set boundaries and detach
  • Find respite care and take a break
  • Know when to walk away from an abusive caregiving situation

Who Do Seniors Turn On Their Family Caregivers

Geriatric care experts tend to believe that care recipients target the people providing most of their care because they feel safe enough to do so. These seniors are frustrated and need to vent about getting old, living with chronic pain, losing friends, forgetting things, being incontinent, and many other matters. These seniors can turn on a family member who shows their love by trying to take care of them. These seniors seem to believe, on a gut level, that their family caregiver will not leave them no matter how badly the care recipient elects to behave.

In some instances, a caregiver may have been a target of criticism and negativity in the past by the senior who is receiving care. There are situations in which an aging parent may be dealing with mental illness, or a personality disorder may be to blame for a senior’s abusive behavior. There can be a great deal of pressure on a family caregiver to shoulder the burden of care and even abusive behavior. Coping with abusive conduct by the senior recipient of care can prove to be an ongoing challenge.

How to Cope With Caregiver Abuse

As difficult as this can be, the best way for a family caregiver to cope with an abusive caregiver is to get out of the situation. The reality is for many family caregivers, that simply is not a possibility. 

Other family members may not be willing or able to take on the role of caregiver of the senior who is being abusive. In fact, some families may not be receptive or even understanding when a caregiver is the one being abused. A family might lack the financial resources to hire a third party, such as a home care company. 

Oftentimes, a combination of hope, love, fear, obligation, and guilt compel the existing family caregiver to continue seeing to the needs of the abusive senior. In order to make this ongoing arrangement work and minimize its detrimental impact, caregivers must consider other tactics and strategies to address and cope with an abusive situation. 

Set Boundaries and Detach

What many geriatric care professionals recommend for a family caregiver subject to abusive care recipients is to emotionally detach with love. There are some specific strategies you can employ to assist in boundary setting and emotional detachment.

Identify concrete reasons why you need to detach. For example, your own emotional health depends on you detaching emotionally from the situation with your parent for whom you provide care and establishing appropriate boundaries.

Setting boundaries and detaching from an abusive recipient of your care need not be established in an instant. You can begin to set boundaries and emotionally detach one step at a time. 

When it comes to setting boundaries and working to emotionally detach from an abusive family member for whom you serve as a caregiver, consider engaging the supportive services of a therapist or counselor. A professional in the field can help you get through the process of emotionally detaching and setting boundaries in regard to a family member you provide caregiving assistance to who nevertheless is abusive to you. 

Find Respite Care and Take a Break

You will also want to consider respite care and taking a break from caregiving. There likely are a number of different respite care options available to you and the person for whom you provide assistance. Through respite care, you can take a break from providing assistance and engage in self-care or other activities. While you take a break, you can rest assured that the family member you care for is being appropriately assisted. 

Know When to Walk Away From an Abusive Caregiver Situation

In some instances, there is no way to resolve being abused as a family caregiver by a care recipient. Therefore, you may need to make the decision to cease being a caregiver for this individual. If another family does not step up, there are in-home care agencies that can provide assistance. In addition, the time may have come for the relative in question to transition into an assisted living or some other type of long-term care community. 

In the final analysis, even the best-laid plans go run awry in some cases involving family caregiving. This particularly is the case if the recipient of care is abusive to the designated family caregiver. While it is noble and kindhearted to attempt to provide care and assistance and assistance to a senior family member, you do not need to sacrifice your sense of self and joy in life in the process. There are limits to what you can do, and there are professionals available to assist if you reach a point in time when serving as a caregiver is fair to you.