Blog | Friday, January 23, 2009

Abuse by caregivers may be cry for help

About half of 220 family caregivers surveyed in a recent study reported abusive behavior towards a relative with dementia, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. Only a very small number of respondents reported physical abuse, the authors noted, but about one-third admitted to "signficant" abuse defined as frequently insulting or swearing at their elderly charges. Occasionally screaming or yelling was considered less-serious abuse.

The findings shouldn't villify the caregivers, the authors suggest, but draw attention to the difficulties faced by family or friends attempting to care for an elderly person at home, with little support. The study, which was conducted in the UK, indicates that government policies to prevent elder abuse won't do much good unless the problems faced by family caregivers also are addressed.

Physicians can be reluctant to ask family caregivers about abuse but if they bring up the issue they may find that the caregivers are anxious to talk, researchers commented. A physician's concern can be the impetus needed to prompt a caregiver already worried about his or her abusive behavior to ask for help.