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Caregiver Abuse: What To Do When You Are Mistreated

Dear Allegra:

As a caregiver for my 89-year-old father, my days are hectic and long. My dad lives with my husband and me in our home. We both work full-time, in addition to caring for my father.

My dad has always had a very cantankerous personality. Unfortunately, that hasn’t mellowed with age. While my father is cooperative with my husband, he is awful to me. No matter what I do for him, it isn’t enough and it isn’t done right. He often uses very foul language with me.

My husband tells me there are clear signs of caregiver abuse. He wants to confront my dad about it. If my father’s behavior doesn’t improve, he thinks we need to move my dad to an assisted living community or a nursing home.

I’m just not sure what to do. This is my dad’s life-long behavior pattern so I doubt he is likely to change.

Do you have any advice for a verbally abused caregiver like me? The situation is getting to the point where it’s causing problems between my husband and me.


Recognizing Caregiver Abuse by Elders

Dear Dana:

What a difficult position to be in. I can only imagine how tough it is for you to experience, and for your husband to witness. While much attention has been paid to older adults who are abused by family, friends, and caregivers, the reverse isn’t true. That means caregivers often fail to recognize the mistreatment they are experiencing for what it is—abuse.

It sounds like the verbal attacks you are suffering through while trying to care for your father could be considered caregiver abuse. Knowing what to do about it is definitely daunting.

When an elder abuses a family caregiver, there are a complex mix of emotions involved. Everything from sadness and guilt to rage and even hope come in to play. Many family members pin their hopes on the senior recognizing what they are doing is wrong, and changing on their own.

Since you mentioned this is a life-long pattern with your dad, it seems unlikely he will modify his behavior without some intervention. But it is important that you not ignore this behavior any longer, and that you put yourself first. There is research to show that caregivers who suffer abuse are more likely to experience depression and other serious health conditions.

One short-term solution might be to employ an in-home caregiver to help with your father. You may even want to consider around-the-clock care to allow you and your husband to take a weekend getaway. It sounds like you can both use a little time to relax and enjoy yourselves.

Beyond that, I would recommend you talk with a professional counselor who has experience in elder care. They can help you evaluate your specific options and create a solid plan for moving forward.

You might also want to consider joining online caregiver support groups. Having an opportunity to network with your peers may help you find solutions and strength. Some are likely trying to cope with a situation similar to yours.

I hope this information helps, Dana!

Kind regards,