Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate: Dr. Cynthia Speaks!

Topic: Caregiver: Abuse, Physical, Verbal, Emotional, Suicide.

Murder-suicide! Yes, it happens! We do not want to think about it or talk about it, but it happens. It can occur in a person’s home, a nursing or group home, an assisted living center, and even the hospital. When the pressure of caregiving leads to the end of the road, we have not done our job as caregiver advocates. The stress of taking care of someone while watching them decline can be unbearable. We must be vigilant in our family circles to identify warning signs.

A recent story in the news caught my attention of a caregiver taking the life of the one needing daily care. It saddened my heart. It is distressing to think caregivers feel lost and the only way out is taking the care recipient’s life and their own. The increase in the stories of abuse and suicide in the caregiving space is unsettling.

One may ask why this happens when caregivers provide tender, loving care while helping their loved one. Remember, some families are thrust into the role. The pandemic has put caregiving on the map. While the role creates its own set of circumstances, not understanding the dynamics of taking care of someone generates negative emotions, poor behaviors, and anger that ends in abuse and sometimes death. With the best intentions, care can be hampered by depression, burnout, loss of control, and not wanting to care for a loved one another second. It is called exhaustion. Many cannot stomach watching a loved one suffer day-in and day-out and feel the only option is to end it all.

Murder/suicide is on the rise in the caregiving space. The pain and sacrifice of losing or giving up independence can be a brutal reality. But it need not be deadly. If we are squelching our internal warning signs, it is the red flag of imminent disaster.

Many seniors, especially husbands and wives, are facing more and more the need to care for each other more and more. Depending on the type of health and care needs, the elevation of abuse, anger, and helpless feelings can be magnified. Care recipients who are non-verbal, bed-bound, or have mobility challenges…unable to independently manage activities of daily living…dependent on another to care for them(total care) are cases when abuse and murder/suicide are seen the most. Let us acknowledge that this is real. Sometimes it is intentional, while other times, it’s the caregiver being at wit’s end.

What Do We Do About It?

I cannot stress enough to ASK FOR HELP! It is uncomfortable to say; women tend to ask for help before men will. There are resources in the community. Please consider getting therapy. Doing so can assist you in understanding your feelings and emotions and give you options to talk about your feelings. A considerable part of caregiving is to learn to accept your imperfections in the role because it is challenging. In-home support in the caregiving space is necessary at some point. You must seek assistance. Sometimes, it may not be a family member. When you are at your wits end…saying no, walking away, is necessary. As Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate, I know the frustration and fear are real feelings, but seek help if you feel like ending a life.

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Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman

Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman

Dr. Hickman is the author of From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Journey of Duty and Honor and The Black Book of Important for Caregivers.