Risk Factors for Elder Abuse

It’s difficult to take care of a senior when he or she has many different needs, and it’s difficult to be elderly when age brings with it infirmities and dependence. Both the demands of caregiving and the needs of the elder can create situations in which abuse is more likely to occur.

Risk factors among caregivers

Many nonprofessional caregivers — spouses, adult children, other relatives and friends — find taking care of an elder to be satisfying and enriching. But the responsibilities and demands of elder caregiving, which escalate as the elder’s condition deteriorates, can also be extremely stressful. The stress of elder care can lead to mental and physical health problems that make caregivers burned out, impatient, and unable to keep from lashing out against elders in their care.

Among caregivers, significant risk factors for elder abuse are:

  • Inability to cope with stress (lack of resilience)
  • Depression, which is common among caregivers
  • Lack of support from other potential caregivers
  • The caregiver’s perception that taking care of the elder is burdensome and without psychological reward
  • Substance abuse

Even caregivers in institutional settings can experience stress at levels that lead to elder abuse. Nursing home staff may be prone to elder abuse if they lack training, have too many responsibilities, are unsuited to caregiving, or work under poor conditions.

The elder’s condition and history

Several factors concerning elders themselves, while they don’t excuse abuse, influence whether they are at greater risk for abuse:

  • The intensity of an elderly person’s illness or dementia
  • Social isolation; i.e., the elder and caregiver are alone together almost all the time
  • The elder’s role, at an earlier time, as an abusive parent or spouse
  • A history of domestic violence in the home
  • The elder’s own tendency toward verbal or physical aggression

In many cases, elder abuse, though real, is unintentional. Caregivers pushed beyond their capabilities or psychological resources may not mean to yell at, strike, or ignore the needs of the elders in their care.

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