Caring For An Aging Parent
Truthfully, taking care of an aging parent is very difficult to do with constant grace and kindness. There are so many things you never would have thought you would have to do for your parent:
- helping them bathe
- waiting on them hand and foot
- asserting your will for them over their will for themselves, and
- sometimes dealing with verbal abuse that comes from a place of fear, confusion, pain, or mental illness.
It can be extremely challenging to keep up a positive relationship with a parent who resents being completely dependent on his or her child. This is especially true when the aged parent resists the idea that they need to be taken care of at all, by anyone.
Horror of Elder Abuse
I think those are important things to take into account when we find ourselves recoiling in horror at stories of elder abuse, where an older person has been mistreated or neglected, often at the hand of a family member. In many cases, I do not think the perpetrator sees him or herself as such. Rather, they might be completely drained by the demands of taking care of their loved one. Run down, depressed, exhausted, frustrated and becoming bitter at the endless responsibility. They find themselves taking it all out on someone who is too dependent to fight back, resist, or get help.
Experts in the field say that knowledge about elder abuse is about two decades behind what we know about child abuse and domestic violence. Even the term “elder abuse” is something we were not hearing about too often until the last few years. That certainly does not mean it was not happening.
A study done in New York estimated that 1 in 3 older adults in the state had been victims of at least one form of elder abuse in the year preceding the study. As the victims of these crimes often depend on those who perpetrate them, and because of a general lack of awareness of what elder abuse looks like, it continues to be extremely underreported. The kind of elder abuse that was self-reported most in the study was financial exploitation, followed by emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and neglect.
Elder Abuse Is Happening All Around
The abuse is not just committed at the hands of familial caregivers. There are often concerns that nursing homes or retirement communities are manipulating their residents financially or neglecting to provide adequate care. Those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s have an increased risk, as well as women, those in poor health, those with very little money, and those without a spouse or other significant social support.
What can we do? How can we hold each other accountable for the way our elderly are being treated? Most importantly, we can know the signs that elder abuse may be occurring and report our concerns. Some of these are:
- If we notice that a potential victim has unexplained injuries like bruises or welts, broken bones, sprains, broken glasses
- Signs of being restrained, or has been given too much or too little medication
We can share these concerns with authorities or the organizations designated to address elder abuse. If the caregiver of an elderly person refuses to allow you to see that person alone, that might also be an indicator that they know they have done something wrong.
Other signs that show that the elderly person is not being taken care of are:
- The caregiver is threatening, belittling, or controlling or is overly dismissive when the elderly person shares his or her needs
- The elderly person shows signs of malnutrition or dehydration, unusual weight loss, untreated bed sores, unsanitary living conditions
- The elderly person is not being bathed or dressed appropriately for the weather
- If they are living in a place without heat or running water or other necessary amenities
Caring For The Caregiver
It is important to report such signs when you see them. If you are the caregiver of an elderly person, it is also important to be sure you are caring for yourself as much as you are caring for your aging relative. If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask for help from friends, other relatives, or local care agencies. Consider finding an adult day care program that will buy you a couple of hours to get a much-needed break. Be sure you are showering and eating enough and that you are staying physically healthy. You might also consider seeing a counselor or joining a support group specifically for caregivers of the elderly. Knowing how extremely trying it is to care for an elderly person—especially when that person is a loved one—be sure you are taking steps to actively prevent yourself from crossing a line.
At some point in our lives, most of us find ourselves caring for aging relatives in a way that puts pressure on the relationship or makes us feel uncomfortable. To feel the strain, to miss the way they were in their younger years, to worry about them and their ability to care for themselves, to slip into frustration at their resistance to your help—all of these things are normal and understandable responses to a new dynamic in a relationship that has been incredible formative. But as the relationship changes, it is important to set new boundaries for each other, to keep open lines of communication between the elderly and those caring for them, and to determine to maintain, as much as possible, the dignity of someone who cared for your or for others as long as they were able.
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