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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published August 01 2010

Bursack: Vulnerable elders need protection

Dear Readers: Most of us have read horror stories of abuse in nursing homes.

Some parts of the nation still have homes that would have been considered outdated by most of us several decades ago. The Upper Midwest seems to be blessed with many exceptional homes, as are other states where the forward-thinking owners and administrators practice person-centered care in their facilities.

However, even very good homes struggle to stay fully staffed with people who have the incredible qualities needed to care for vulnerable elders, so family members and friends of those in nursing homes remain the best advocates.

Facilities aside, there is a troublesome abuse in nursing homes that often doesn’t make news. Unlike schools that are mandated to report children with bruises and other physical abuse to authorities, vulnerable elders in a home setting are generally at the mercy of family or friends. Actual physical and emotional abuse also can happen, often with little danger of discovery.

More subtle, however, is the type of abuse that can occur when the elder is taken care of by a family. This family starts out with the best intentions and cares tenderly for the elder. However, most family caregivers go into caregiving without thinking through the months and years of care that may be needed. This loving act can backfire.

If a caregiver never gets a break from caregiving, even the best can get impatient. When an elder with mid-stage Alzheimer’s asks for the fifth time in five minutes to “go home,” and no attempts at distraction or redirection seem to work, even the most patient person can feel as though they may snap.

Is it abuse to snap at someone with Alzheimer’s? That would depend on whether it’s habit or a one-time impatient answer. However, I would rate it as a danger sign.

Around-the-clock caregiving takes a toll on the caregiver. The isolation of the caregiver, and often the care receiver, can be broken when in-home care is hired, or some other form of respite is used. A caregiver given breaks will have time to refresh and recharge. He or she will interact with friends and the outside world.

Celebrate yourself and your caregiving heart. Then look for a way to find help when you need it, so you don’t cross that line from “having a bad day” to becoming an abuser. Our elder deserve more.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.