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How to Take Care of an Abusive Elderly Parent

by J.R. Erickson

Many families eventually reach a point where an elderly parent can no longer care for himself. It may be a result of the onset of disease, or simply of old age. This can be a challenging time for both the parent, who is struggling with the loss of his independence, and the child, who must make sacrifices to care for the parent. This situation can become exceptionally difficult if the elderly parent is abusive--either physically, mentally or emotionally--to the adult child.

Set specific boundaries. When choosing to care for an elderly parent who is abusive, you must identify limits and expectations. If you are married or living with a partner, these boundaries should be planned together. Discuss what type of care you will provide. For instance, will the parent be moving into your home, or will she maintain a separate residence? Will you help her with daily chores like cleaning and grocery shopping? Having a concrete plan will help you to realize if the parent begins to abuse your help by demanding more than you are willing to provide.

Explain to your parent what type of care you can and are willing to provide. It may be wise to explain these guidelines with a neutral party present, to avoid arguments or abusive reactions by the parent. Tell your parent what type of assistance you will provide and what things you will not provide, so that there is no confusion. This is also a good time to clarify your refusal to deal with abusive behavior.

Create a plan to deal with abusive behavior. First, identify what you feel is abusive behavior so you do not begin justifying your parent's actions. Second, create a clear plan to combat this behavior. One such plan: "If my parent begins to insult me, I will speak with him about alternative-care options."

Deal with abuse head-on. It is very important to demand respect from your parent while you are providing care. If she begins to behave in an abusive way, you must follow through with whatever action plan you previously created. This will enforce your role as the authority so she understands the consequences of her actions.

Call for reinforcements. To alleviate some of the pressure, try to involve other family members or professionals in the parent's care. Often, siblings will split these roles amongst them. If this is not an option, consider hiring a part-time caregiver or someone to run errands for your parent, so all of the responsibility does not fall to you.

Know when to stop. It may be difficult to stop providing care for your parent, but if the abuse continues or the stress becomes overwhelming, this may be the best option. Consider assisted-living homes or having a professional caregiver take over this role.

About the Author

Based in northern Michigan, J.R. Erickson has been a freelance writer since 2006. She has been published at the White Pine Press, Michigan Nature Association, Life in the USA, Storyhouse.org and The Four Cornered Universe. Erickson holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Michigan State University.