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Spouse Most Likely Source of Elder Abuse

Tensions can rise when caring for husband or wife, study finds

THURSDAY, Feb. 24, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Elderly people may be at increased risk of abuse if they're cared for by a spouse, especially if the spouse is coping with his or her own physical or mental health problems, according to a new study.

"Caregiving is stressful, and it breaks down the people that are providing the care -- they wear down," Scott Beach, the study lead author and director of research at University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research, said in a prepared statement.

Beach's team surveyed 265 caregivers and elderly recipients of care, and found that caregivers who were married to the person they were looking after were more likely to be abusive than other caregiver family members, such as adult children.

Elderly people being looked after by a spouse were more likely to report that their caregivers screamed or yelled at them, insulted them, used a harsh tone of voice, swore at them, or called them names. Some cases of harsh spousal treatment may be a continuation of previous ongoing marital conflict, Beach noted.

He said their findings suggest that family members and doctors should pay close attention to situations where an elderly person is looking after a spouse. It may also be a good idea to screen the couple and provide intervention if there are signs of trouble, they add.

Older, depressed spousal caregivers might be a particular target for screening and intervention.

"Clinicians should focus not only on treating the depression, but also on providing these caregivers with alternatives that might ease the burden of caregiving, such as support group referral or arranging for other family members, friends, or formal service providers to perform respite care," the study authors wrote.

The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging offers these caregiving resources.

SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, news release, Feb. 7, 2005
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