Abusive Relationships

Caregivers can be victims of abuse, too.



Caregivers Can be Victims, Too


Many caregivers support elderly parents suffering from dementia or illnesses affecting their personalities. As a result, the conflict between the parent and “child,” now caregiver, may become intense. Though news articles describe elderly abuse and domestic violence associated with in-home care, few publications mention that caregivers often become victims of their patients. In some situations, the family member intentionally harms the caregiver by responding inappropriately due to a medical condition limiting self-control (dementia or mental illness). However, in other circumstances, the family member resents being told what to do and becomes angry. In retaliation, they strike back, intending to inflict harm.

Becoming a caregiver for someone doesn’t usually change family relationships. If a parent was an abuser to a child throughout their life, then he will likely continue to be an abuser as a patient. Just because his child is now providing life-sustaining care to him will not change his attitude in most circumstances. The cycle of abuse will, in most cases, continue. As pain and suffering get worse, the violence probably will as well.

Unfortunately, family abuse often goes undetected. As a result, people have much pride, and victims feel unwarranted shame. Guilt and shame generally are part of the mental abuse imposed by the abuser, but it’s difficult for the victim to see that and overcome the abuse. Therefore, it’s not unusual for those outside the family to know nothing about what is happening in the home. Keeping the secret, however, may be too much for the caregiver and can be a factor in thoughts of suicide.

Following are examples of some family situations that often lead to caregiver abuse:

  • A caregiver attempts to give an adult child experiencing a mental health crisis medication. The child thinks the caregiver is trying to poison them and tries to stop the caregiver from giving the medication. During the struggle, the child punches the caregiver violently while shoving them away, then rushes to the door to escape.
  • An older woman with dementia woke up confused. She believes she is visiting a friend’s house and wants to go home. When the caregiver tries to explain that she is in her home, she suddenly becomes angry and throws a temper tantrum running around the room, throwing objects demanding she go home to her mother. Some of the objects strike the caregiver. A picture frame with broken glass hits the caregiver’s head and cuts a deep wound requiring stitches.

Adult Protective Services (APS) does not protect caregivers. However, they can file a police report. Unfortunately, since reports of domestic violence require investigation “for cause,” the incident often results in a dismissal of charges due to no witnesses and “he said, she said” testimony


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