More than half of carers admit abusing relatives with Alzheimer’s
By Jenny Hope
Half of family members who look after someone with dementia admit they behave abusively towards them, say researchers.
And a third own up to ‘significant’ levels of abuse, according to the first study of its kind.
Those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are frequently the butt of swearing and shouting, and may even be hit by members of their own family, the study says.
Previous research has shown paid carers guilty of this kind of abuse, which the Government has pledged to stamp out.
Campaigners said the ‘shocking’ findings should lead to tough preventive measures that put elder abuse on a par with child abuse.
But researchers from University College London say it is unsurprising that family members crack under the strain of caring for those with dementia, often with little support.
Dr Claudia Cooper, UCL Department of Mental Health Sciences and lead author of the study, said she suspected it revealed a ‘cry for help’ from relatives at breaking point.
She said: ‘Many people think about elder abuse in terms of "lashing out" and similar acts but abuse as defined by government guidelines can be as simple as shouting or swearing.
‘This research provides a strong sign that we need to help people who are being very honest about the difficulties of dealing with a close, stressful relationship.’
Researchers interviewed 220 family carers of patients with dementia, living at home in London and Essex.
Altogether, 52 per cent (115) reported some abusive behaviour, such as very occasionally screaming or yelling. A third (74) reported significant levels of abuse, such as more frequent insulting or swearing, says a report today in the British Medical Journal.
Three family members (1.4 per cent) reported that physical abuse sometimes occurred.
The measure used was the Modified Conflict Tactics Scale, in which carers answered questions about how often in the last three months they had acted in five psychologically and five physically abusive ways on a scale of 0-4 (ranging from never to all the time).
A score of more than two on one question is defined by this scale as ‘significant’ abuse.
The Government is currently consulting about a revision of its policy for safeguarding vulnerable adults from abuse by paid carers.
However, Dr Cooper said: ‘This survey shows that abusive behaviour towards people with dementia from family carers is common.
‘Those with the most abusive behaviour may have been reluctant to report it, or take part in the study.’
Co-author Professor Gill Livingston said: ‘Considering elder abuse as a spectrum of behaviours rather than an "all or nothing" phenomenon could help professionals to ask about it and therefore offer assistance.’
Neil Hunt, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘We must feel the same outrage about the abuse of people with dementia as we do about child abuse and the same tough measures must protect their rights.
‘Giving carers access to respite, psychological support and financial security could help end mistreatment.’
Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: ‘The UK is facing a dementia crisis; the number of people with the condition will hit 1.5million within a generation.
‘The Government must do much more to support carers.’