Caregiving is a big topic these days. It certainly comes up a lot in this blog. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine just published it’s most recent report on family caregiving. I haven’t digested it yet so expect to see a future post with more detail. I imagine, like most of the research I have talked about in this area, it will highlight the challenges of caregiving (physically, emotionally, and financially) while also acknowledging the rewards of providing care for someone you love. I’m sure it has some recommendations for better supporting family caregivers moving forward. Good stuff and good background for my topic today.
Recently I came across an article that made me think about a different twist on the challenges of caregiving – caring for an aging patient who abused the caregiver as a child. As if caregiving isn’t challenging enough.
This is a subset of family caregivers that don’t get much attention.
The study is based on 1,001 adult children in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study who are caring for their parents . So, no, it’s not a nationally representative sample, although the WLS is an amazing study with a wealth of interesting data and probably one of the few data sets available to address the issue in this way.
Two key findings from this study
- 10% of the sample experienced parental abuse when they were a child and were caring for the abusive parent. Another 8% experienced parental abuse and were caring for a nonabusive parent.
- Compared to caregivers with no history of abuse, those who were caring for their abusive parent had more depressive symptoms.
No surprise there. Caring for a parent can effect the caregiver physically and emotionally. Childhood abuse and neglect can have long term effects – physical, emotional, cognitive, and social. And the quality of the relationship between the caregiver and care recipient can influence outcomes for both of them. Overlay a history of abuse and neglect and the challenges of caregiving are not just increased, but I imagine take on a whole different flavor (to use a very unscientific and imprecise term).
This is a group who are doing hard work under extra hard circumstances and could, I suspect, use extra support.
One thing that the authors don’t address and that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere is the relationship between caring for an abusive parent and elder abuse. If kids who are abused have a greater chance of growing up to be abusers, then are these caregivers more likely to abuse and neglect their parent? And can we break that cycle by providing help with caregiving?
Elder mistreatment and neglect can include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; financial exploitation; neglect; and abandonment. An estimated 7 to 10% of older adults are abused or neglected annually with lower prevalence for physical and sexual abuse.
Elder abuse can be a potential result of caregiving stress. Rates tend to be higher the more difficult the care (e.g., for older adults with dementia and/or who need physical assistance). And, while there’s not good data on how often abusers are family members versus other informal or paid caregivers, the data that is available suggests that family play a significant role. Might then the stress of childhood abuse on the caregiver and his/her relationship with their parent also be a risk factor?
I don’t have any wise words to end on. I hesitated to even write about this topic because I know so little about it and the opportunity for misconceptions and judgment is so high. My bottom line is ultimately that all caregivers need help and that some groups of caregivers may need more or different types of help.
What are your thoughts?