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