There are a number of ways that elders can be abused, including physically, emotionally, verbally, and financially. Two of the most obvious causes are when a caregiver is unfit from the beginning and when even the best of caregivers becomes completely overwhelmed or burned out.
Try making a phone call, and suddenly your parents and your children all want your attention at once and are all acting out to get your attention. Everyone is pulling you in a different direction at the same time. At some point, you will probably snap. If your parent is suffering from dementia and you cannot reason with her at all, this just compounds the problem. Long before things get to the boiling or snapping point it's time to take a break. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.
So you snap and yell at everyone, or concentrate your venting on one person. You have never raised your voice to your father before, but the last straw just broke your back. As you really get started yelling at your dad, in walks your sister, and suddenly she's accusing you of abuse.
From there things escalate into a huge family disagreement and all of your efforts in caring for dad for years are being subjected to unwarranted criticism by all of your siblings. These are the same siblings who have never raised a finger to help out but can certainly find all kinds of fault with your care giving now.
The aging process is not always kind, and sometimes it may seem as though your father is a two-year-old having a temper tantrum, or your mother has reverted to a toddler as she wets her pants, seemingly on purpose, just as you are leaving for her doctor's appointment. These scenarios can be stressful enough, but when you are faced with the fact that your parents are no longer the people you have always known, you can easily become emotionally overwhelmed.
It's important to recognize your limits and get help long before you reach them or exceed them. That's easier said than done, but when you have crossed the line, it's essential. Yelling at your dad may have cleared the air for both of you, but you don't want to keep getting to that point — that will be elder abuse. Recognizing there is a problem and dealing with it is not abuse.
Alzheimer's patients especially can become combative. Other dementias can cause a perfectly calm, sweet, little old lady to suddenly attack you with a chair she has lifted over her head because it's now sundown and she has become confused for the evening. The abuse is not always unprovoked; it can be a knee-jerk reaction to an event. Nonetheless, it has to be addressed and dealt with.
Not all care-giving situations are created equal; therefore, you need to be sure anyone caring for you mother with Alzheimer's has had proper training. That includes you. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association about caregiver classes and tips for caregivers.
Other elder-abuse issues can involve neglect. Caregivers don't feed their patients or not enough. They don't clean them and don't change diapers when they are soiled. They don't turn bedbound patients frequently enough and they get bedsores. Neglect is often a worse kind of abuse than even physical or verbal abuse. Sometimes the neglect is not blatant and it takes some investigating to find it, but if you have hired caregivers for your parents, be sure they are giving the care needed. If they live far away, ask a neighbor to drop in unexpectedly and see how things look or set up a hidden camera.
Stealing from your parents or milking them for “gratuities” and “gifts” is a form of abuse as well. That's why it is best to oversee the financial matters with any hired caregivers. You pay them, and if your parents want to give them a gift or gratuity, you give it to them with their paycheck. Put the valuables away so there is no temptation.
If your parent is in a nursing home or assisted-living facility, any abusive caregivers need to be reported to the administration. The long-term-care ombudsman oversees these facilities. Contact your local county area on aging office for more information.
Anyone taking advantage of the elderly through schemes and scams can be charged with elder abuse in addition to the fraud. E-mail scams, unauthorized door-to-door solicitors, and mail fraud can be elder abuse when they have stolen identity or money from the elderly.
If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact the area agency on aging through your county government office and make a report. They will investigate this for you.