Ann grew up with an alcoholic father. He beat her mother and began abusing her when she was twelve years old, and it continued until she left home at sixteen. She’s now 55, her mother recently passed away, and after several years of therapy, she has been trying to develop a relationship with her 85-year-old father. He has Alzheimer’s, and Ann moved in with him to take over his care.

But should she?

What might happen when the caregiver was the early victim of abuse from the individual now with dementia? Whether it was physical or emotional, the abuse scars remain. Is it possible for them to give loving quality care to the person who caused them so much pain?

We are born with approximately 100 billion neurons. By the age of five, our childhood experiences connect up these neurons and create our subconscious programming. These earliest connections become a blueprint that influences our emotions and behaviors. It is the foundational material from which we create new experiences, personal relationships, and interpret our environment.

Abuse survivors, commonly suffer from some level of posttraumatic stress, and the degree to which this affects their lives depends on coping skills and how much therapy and self-healing they have accomplished.

Dealing with the fear and pain of abuse creates neuronal pathways that lie dormant and can be triggered by a seemingly unrelated stimulus. It can be a resemblance to the abuser, a word, place, smell, or touch. The abuse survivor encounters these triggers throughout their lifetime, and it affects their reactions. Some are very powerful and can lead to bouts of depression, rage, or inappropriate behaviors, and others are just tweaks that might go unnoticed.

Studies show the majority of abusers were also victims of abuse themselves. The roles reverse when the abused becomes the abuser while subconsciously trying to regain control. This person usually hurts the vulnerable like children, their spouse, pets, or the elderly. Most abusers don’t want or plan on becoming one. When triggered, they unthinkingly react, and then it becomes habitual.

But when the abused is required to care for the aging or incapacitated abuser, this can become a dangerous situation for both, whether it is an adult child caring for the alcoholic mother, sexually abusive father, or a battered wife caring for the husband. The caregiver may have all the best intentions, however, their not so loved one most likely will eventually press their buttons. Just a look, a word or gesture can easily trigger neuronal responses that the caregiver might be unable to control.

This prior victim could easily slip into becoming the present-day abuser, especially when under the daily pressures of caregiving a person with dementia.


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