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Elderly people cared for by spouse are at greater risk for abuse, Pitt researchers find

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 7 -- When elderly people need assistance with the activities of daily life, one might assume that the best people to care for them would be the ones who know them best--their spouses. But, as a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh report in this month's issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, being married to one's caregiver could be a prescription for abuse, especially if the caregiver is also suffering from his or her own physical or mental problems.

Scott Beach, director of survey research in Pitt's University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR); Richard Schulz, professor of psychiatry and director of UCSUR; and colleagues at the University of Georgia and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that caregivers who are married to those they care for--particularly those caregivers who are more cognitively impaired, in poorer health, more depressed, or taking care of someone who needs more help--are more likely to be abusive.

Such situations should send a "red flag" to family members and doctors, Beach and his colleagues warn in their paper, titled "Risk Factors for Potentially Harmful Informal Caregiver Behavior." In such cases, they say, the couple should be screened and, if troublesome signs are found, possibly targeted for intervention.

Prior research, some conducted at Pitt, has shown that being a caregiver causes negative health effects. "Caregiving is stressful, and it breaks down the people that are providing the care--they wear down," said Beach. "This study shows that that's not good for the person they're taking care of."

Beach and colleagues studied 265 pairs of caregivers and care recipients. Caregivers were primarily responsible for an impaired family member 60 years or older who needed help with at least one "activity of daily living," such as bathing or dressing, or at least two "instrumental activities of daily living," such as paying b
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Contact: Karen Hoffmann
klh52@pitt.edu
412-624-4356
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
8-Feb-2005


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