Elder Abuse Resulting From
Caregiving Overload in Older
University of Vermont
Social Work Program
Elder abuse is a seriously neglected topic. Efforts to raise the issue often reveal that experienced professionals find the problem too threatening to discuss. They prefer less controversial gerontological topics such as retirement and bereavement, which as normative events carry minimal social stigma. Many dimensions of the problem of elder abuse are centered in the structure and function of family life where violence is generated, tolerated, and transferred within and across generations.
Socialization patterns among generations of family members, especially the elderly and their grown children, can best be understood through a lifespan approach. The shifts in family decision making and control, expectations about dependency and meeting needs, and family member priorities are part of life cycle changes. When generational lines move to give authority once held by the oldest family members to younger generations, there is the possibility of either smooth progression in developmental tasks or tension and conflict in the transitions.
That adult children abuse their elderly parents challenges the traditional assumption that aggressive behavior moves only downward in the generational system. Cycles of violence spread in numerous directions. Seemingly, no subsystem in the family is immune to being abusive or suffering from abuse. The adult child and aged parent subsystem is clearly no exception.
This chapter provides an analysis of how older family members, especially adult children and aged parents, experience disruption in caregiving to impaired elders as the result of complex factors producing "caregiver overload." It links intergenerational conflict and dysfunctional relationships to a particular subset of caregiving outcomes categorized as elder abuse and neglect. A