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Liability of Caregiving

Anyone who accepts the responsibilities of a caregiver must also understand that there are a number of legal duties or liabilities that come with it. 

Many states including California have passed elderly abuse laws. Caregivers are bound by these laws in two ways: not to abuse the elder person (physically, mentally or monetarily) and report any incidents of abuse or suspected abuse. 

As a caregiver, you must provide a clean and safe environment, nutritious meals, clean bedding, and clothes. At the same time, if you are in charge of the elderly person's finances, you must use that money properly, purchasing necessary services for the benefit of the person to whom care is given. Failure to provide care, failure to get care, and failure to purchase care are all forms of abuse or neglect.

In addition, caregivers may not physically, sexually or psychologically abuse the person receiving the care. Yelling, screaming, withholding affection, etc., are as much an abuse of the person as is striking the person with the hand or with objects. 

Therefore, if you are contemplating becoming, or are now a care giver, you must be ready to accept the physical, psychological and legal duties to provide the necessary care. 

If you are reaching a point where you are no longer able, physically or emotionally, to provide the proper care, we urge you to consider the alternatives to personal care-giving and to seek help with this decision from a counselor or one of the resources available in Appendix A.

47. When is it Time to Stop Caregiving?

As we have stated repeatedly throughout this booklet, care-giving is a very stressful situation. Stress either causes or exacerbates some 70 to 90 percent of all medical complaints, including tension and migraine headaches, high blood pressure, asthma, nervous stomach, bowel problems, and chronic lower back pains. There is research evidence indicating stress plays a role in a person's susceptibility to heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Stress has also been implicated in psychological disorders such as anxiety reactions, depressions and phobias, as well as poor work performance, drug and alcohol abuse, insomnia, and unexplained violence. 

If you are experiencing any of the above, it is extremely important that you learn and use various techniques for stress reduction (some are mentioned in this booklet), come to the decision, both for your well-being and that of your care-receiver that it is time to stop caregiving.

Below are some telltale signs which can help you assess when you have reached this fork in the road; seek help professional help, utilize more stress reduction methods, or stop care-giving:

  • snapping at the care-receiver constantly even over little things,
  • being constantly irritated,
  • seldom laughing anymore,
  • feeling constantly tired or pressured,
  • losing sleep, failing to fall asleep for hours, sleeping restlessly all night long,
  • yelling or screaming, or having crying fits, or rages frequently,
  • withholding affection, feelings of goodwill from the care-recipient,
  • withholding food, baths, dressing changes, etc.,
  • constantly blaming the care-receiver for your being in this situation (his/her isolated caregiver),
  • refusing to go out anymore, even for a walk because he/she needs me,
  • withholding expenditures for goods or services he/she needs because he/she is going to die soon and it is wasted money,
While these are not exclusive, they indicate a classic picture of caregiver burnout. The treatment for caregiver burnout is simple -- get help and get away for extended periods, either through stress management respite help or through a complete change in care-giving.

No one can remain a full-time caregiver forever; the job is much too strenuous and stressful. The point we wish to set forth is: When should I say this is my limit; I am not able to do any more. Be honest with yourself, and when that limit has been reached, STOP! Research alternatives, request help from qualified professionals, and rest easy, because you did the right thing!