• CPS - Lauren Young

     By Lauren Young, LCSW, Kaplan University Instructor, Human Services Department 


    As we consider the well-being and safety of older adults in observing World Elder Abuse Day every June, one cannot escape the stark reality of the challenges faced in coping with the mistreatment of individuals over age 60. It is estimated that 2 million older adults are abused, neglected, or exploited every year, and only 1 out of 14 incidents are reported. This epidemic can be explored as it relates to working directly with the senior victim, but as a social worker and Kaplan University instructor, my first thought is to consider how we can prevent the most common perpetrators, family caregivers, from ever becoming abusive.

    Who are the family caregivers who abuse their loved ones? Most often they are adult children, but spouses, grandchildren, and any family member or close friend who cares for a vulnerable senior can be susceptible to the risk of abusive behavior. No race, religion, culture, or gender is immune. Frequently abusive family caregivers may be experiencing extreme caregiver fatigue, or Caregiver Stress Syndrome. Approximately 65 percent of abuse cases involve caregiver stress. Sometimes, it is a financial motivation that leads a family caregiver to abuse, neglect, or exploit. With either cause, one important predictor of abusive behavior is how the family caregiver feels about their role. Caregivers who have a negative outlook on their role are at a much higher risk of becoming abusive. With 40–70 percent of family caregivers meeting criteria for depression, it is no wonder that one’s outlook is a major factor in the potential for abusive behavior.

    Human service professionals can play a significant role in helping at-risk family caregivers by working to reframe the care role through counseling, education, self-care initiatives, advocacy, and care management, and connecting caregivers and families to vital resources in the community and beyond. By empowering family caregivers to explore their role in a nonjudgmental and comfortable setting, human service professionals can begin to assist families in navigating their unique care journey. This allows the family caregiver to begin to feel supported and, in some cases, hopeful for the future. The family caregiver role is often physically, emotionally, and financially demanding. By reaching out to family caregivers to help them learn positive ways to cope with their feelings and experiences, we are working to protect the most vulnerable seniors who often do not, or cannot, ask for help.

    Training for human service students and professionals is also of vital importance to prevent elder abuse. By understanding how to incorporate assessment and evaluation of risk factors in client intake protocols as well as knowledge regarding mandated reporting laws and the myriad of education and support resources, human service professionals can ensure that caregivers who may need intervention are identified and supported. Additionally, active involvement in public policy initiatives aimed at supportive programs for both seniors and family caregivers is a key element to empowering individuals, families, and communities around the issue of elder abuse prevention and intervention.

    In the United States, 44 million adults provide care for a family member over the age of 50. As diseases such as Alzheimer’s reach new heights of diagnosis, so too will the number of family caregivers. By knowing how we can help support both family caregivers and care recipients, human service professionals will continue to make an important impact on those we serve.

    *Family Caregiver Alliance. (2006). Retrieved from http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=1822 


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