Elder abuse linked to depressed carers

More than two out of five family carers of older people are at risk of clinical depression

According to the survey, 48.3 per cent of carers looked after an older family member for more than 80 hours a week. Photograph:  John Stillwell/PA Wire

According to the survey, 48.3 per cent of carers looked after an older family member for more than 80 hours a week. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

 

More than two out of five family carers of older people are at risk of clinical depression, and this is associated with carers being more likely to report carrying out potentially harmful behaviour towards the older person in their care, a new survey has found.

According to Family Carers of Older People: Results of a National Survey of Stress, Conflict and Coping, carried out by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People (NCPOP) at UCD, 43.7 per cent of carers were found to be at risk of clinical depression, and such depressive symptoms are associated with potentially harmful carer behaviour.

The survey of 2,311 family carers of older people in Ireland who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance also found that carers who provided more hours of care per week and for a longer period of time, were also more likely to report that they engaged in potentially harmful behaviours towards the older person.

According to the survey, 48.3 per cent of carers looked after an older family member for more than 80 hours a week.

It also revealed that 71.8 per cent of carers are female and one-third are at least 65 years old, with carers’ ages ranging from 19 to 92.

Harmful behaviour

Researchers looked at potentially harmful behaviour, both physical and psychological, carried out by carers towards the older person.

Potentially harmful physical behaviour included withholding food, shaking the older person, roughly handling, hitting or slapping them, and feeling afraid that they might hurt the older person.

Potentially harmful psychological behaviour included using a harsh tone of voice, insulting or swearing at the older person, threatening them with a nursing-home placement, threatening to use physical force, threatening to stop taking care of them or abandoning them, and screaming or yelling at the older person in their care.

One-fifth of carers were providing care to an older person with dementia and this too was meant that they were significantly more likely to report that they engaged in potentially harmful behaviour.

According to Dr Attracta Lafferty, one of the authors of the study and associate director of the NCPOP, “The majority of older people receive good quality, loving care from family members throughout the country.

“But there are incidences where family carers are providing care to an older person with complex health needs . . . who might not have received the necessary training or support and who may be under a lot of pressure to provide care, and this can sometimes place them at risk of engaging in behaviours that may be deemed potentially harmful to the older person.”

The full survey, launched to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15th, will be released at a conference organised by the NCPOP at UCD on Thursday.