Prevent isolation of family caregivers to stop abuse of elderly people

There have been many cases of family members abusing elderly relatives under their care. There is an urgent need to prevent the isolation of families that take care of elderly relatives.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of cases in which elderly people being cared for by family members or relatives were abused in their homes reached 17,281 in fiscal 2020. The figure, which is the number of cases recognized by municipal governments based on reports from police and other entities, is the highest logged since the ministry started conducting such surveys in 2006.

The number of people who died rose to 25, 10 more than the previous fiscal year. There have been a series of tragic incidents, such as an elderly man who strangled to death his dementia-suffering wife because he was exhausted from taking care of her.

In the survey, physical abuse, such as beating and physical restraint, accounted for 70% of all cases. Psychological abuse, such as insulting the elderly over toilet problems, and neglect of care, such as not giving the elderly enough food and water, have also become noticeable.

Abuse is an act that damages the dignity of the elderly and threatens their safety. The background of abuse must be investigated to prevent it from happening.

Elderly people often have symptoms of dementia. Caregivers have few people to help them and can easily build up stress.

In fiscal 2020, there was a widespread tendency to refrain from using day care services in order to avoid infection with the novel coronavirus. As elderly people have been spending more time at home, the burden on caregivers seems to have increased in some respects.

In the survey, more than half of the cases involved two-person households in which the abuser and victim live together.

It seems that it is not uncommon for caregivers who are unable to share their problems with anyone to unconsciously turn to abuse.

In particular, many cases involved sons abusing parents and husbands abusing wives. There is a view that when men are caregivers, they are not accustomed to household chores and tend to be isolated due to their lack of connection to the community.

“Bochibochi Yaro,” a group of male caregivers in their 60s and 70s and former caregivers in the city of Sanda, Hyogo Prefecture, share opinions on how to prepare meals and deal with toilet issues.

“It is important to have a place where [caregivers] can speak about their feelings and troubles,” the representative of the group said. “Sometimes we find clues to solutions through discussion.”

Nursing care insurance was not being used by families in some of the cases. It is important for each municipality to cooperate with social workers and social welfare councils to identify isolated families at an early stage. Such efforts should lead to the use of facilities and care services at home.

Local governments and communities need to work together to reduce the burden on caregivers and create an environment in which it is easy to send SOS signals.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 2, 2022.