Elder Abuse Prevention Series
HealthLink BC File #93b, June 2011
Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults:
Information for Family Caregivers
- Most families are supportive
- Why does abuse or neglect happen?
- Finances and risk of abuse
- Stress and risk of abuse
- Take care of yourself
- Ways to prevent abuse or neglect
- For more information
Most families are supportive
Eighty per cent of caregiving for older adults is provided by families, usually by a spouse, partner or adult children.
Families may help an aging parent or spouse with daily activities, finances such as banking or paying bills, or personal care such as bathing and dressing. They may take on these responsibilities out of love or a sense of personal or family duty. Every family is different. Some family relationships are very positive and mutually supportive. Others experience mixed feelings, conflict and tension.
Why does abuse or neglect happen?
Abuse and neglect in later life can affect a person’s health, happiness and safety. Older adults can experience different kinds of harm from people they rely on or trust. It can take many forms including physical, emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual, or social, or withholding medication or the necessities of life.
Most people do not intend to become abusive or neglectful. They may not feel comfortable with the changing roles in their family, especially if the older adult now needs to rely on them. Some family members may not know how to provide the care or assistance needed. They may not understand the nature of the health concern and how it affects the older adult's abilities or behaviour.
In some situations of abuse, people may use physical force or emotional control over the other person throughout the relationship.
For some spouses in later life, both the person providing care and the person receiving care may have some difficulties with their health, memory, or ability to make decisions. This can affect how people relate and react to each other.
Family caregivers often have other responsibilities at work or at home, such as their own families. Trying to handle these can lead to tensions and conflicts within the family.
Sometimes family caregivers may have personal problems including financial, mental health, or substance misuse. It may be difficult for them to safely offer caregiving.
Finances and risk of abuse
A family member may not realize their legal responsibilities when assisting an older adult with finances, particularly as a power of attorney. They may take over the finances because this seems easier. Some may feel entitled to the money or property, or they may assume they will get it anyway and use it now. This may lead to financial abuse. For more information, see HealthLink BC File #93d Financial Abuse of Older Adults.
Stress and risk of abuse
Most people giving care to someone may feel very stressed at times. Fortunately, people can learn to recognize the signs of stress. To help alleviate a stressful situation and reduce the possibility of abuse or neglect, pay attention to your own emotional and physical health.
Here are some signs of stress:
- Changes in your feelings, such as becoming anxious or depressed
- Always feeling exhausted
- Needing medication to help you sleep or cope
- Making changes in your lifestyle, including the amount you eat, or the amount of tea, coffee or alcohol you drink
- Visiting your doctor more often or developing health concerns
Everyone has a limit and each person's limit is different. A person's needs and abilities can change over time. Be willing to ask for and accept help.
Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself and making sure you have regular time for yourself are important for providing care to family members or others. Even little breaks from caregiving, including short walks or a favourite hobby can help refresh you mentally and physically. Set aside part of the day to do these things. Give up some of the responsibilities you usually take on. Make use of local caregiver support groups, which can help you find resources or learn useful tips.
Ways to prevent abuse or neglect
There are many ways that families can prevent abuse or neglect happening to others or themselves in later life.
1. Good communication helps
Good communication and support within families, as well as between couples, are very important. Talk about the current situation and plan for future needs. What can a parent or family member do on his/her own or with some support? This can help set realistic expectations for families.
Regular contact among family members can be very helpful and supportive. This can help everyone be aware of changes in a parent, spouse or partner's health. Some health concerns can be prevented or slowed down.
Couples can often make small changes in their home and support services as
they grow older.
2. Work together
Good caregiving means having the time, right temperament, and resources to take on this responsibility. Try to share the caregiving responsibilities if possible. Family members often have different skills and can be supportive in various ways. Learn also about available community resources.
3. Strengthen relationships
Even if an older person's health or abilities change, many aspects of the relationship remain very rewarding. Some families strengthen relationships by keeping in touch, sharing old traditions and creating new ones.
For more information
If you see a crime or harmful situation occurring to an older adult, call the police or 9-1-1 immediately. You can also call 8-1-1 for information and advice, and speak to a registered nurse available 24/7 about non-emergency health concerns or questions. Translation services are available in over 130 languages on request.
For information and services, you can also contact:
- Home and Community Care Office in your local health authority whose staff has a responsibility to investigate more serious reports of suspected abuse or neglect.
- B.C. Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support plus the Seniors Advocacy and Information Line (SAIL) at 1-866- 437-1940 or visit www.bcceas.ca
- Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee at 604-660-4444 or www.trustee.bc.ca
- Legal Services Society at 604-408-2172 or toll-free at 1-866-577-2525 or visit www.lss.bc.ca
- Call Victim Link toll-free in B.C. at 1-800-563-0808 for information for victims of family and sexual violence or crime.
For more information, see other topics in the HealthLink BC Files Elder Abuse Prevention Series.
For more HealthLinkBC File topics, visit www.HealthLinkBC.ca/healthfiles/ or your local public health unit.
Click on www.HealthLinkBC.ca or call 8-1-1 for non-emergency health information and services in B.C.
For deaf and hearing-impaired assistance, call 7-1-1 in B.C.
Translation services are available in more than 130 languages on request.