Putting an End to Caregiver Mistreatment

07 May 2021

Putting an End to Caregiver Mistreatment

There is a growing recognition of the various types of abuse, especially against the elderly. However, you should know there are also cases of mistreatment towards caregivers.

07 May 2021

Sophie Éthier is a professor at the École de travail social et de criminologie of Université Laval. She is also a researcher at VITAM, a sustainable health research centre. With a master’s degree in social intervention and a doctorate in gerontology, she has a broad expertise pertaining to caregiving.

In 2012, when she was hired as a professor at Université Laval, she agreed to teach a course on elder abuse, and this is when she made the connection: caregivers, who are often referred to as people potentially responsible for elder abuse, can also suffer abuse as part of their role.

This is how Professor Éthier began research on the mistreatment of caregivers, a first in Quebec.

What is considered caregiver mistreatment?

First of all, we must be aware that the role of caregiver involves risks. There are 3 main ones:

  • the risk of exhaustion, the one we talk about and for which we intervene most often;
  • the risk of isolation;
  • the risk of mistreatment, the one we should take a closer look at in the future.

Then, we must know the 4 sources of mistreatment, voluntary or not, namely:

  • institutions: lack of support, endless delays, burdensome administrative procedures, etc.;
  • friends & family: judgments, lack of help, etc.;
  • the caregiver themselves: failure to respect their limits, refusal to take a break, etc.;
  • the person being cared for: refusal of services offered by the caregiver (the person just wants the support of the caregiver), the numerous and unrealistic demands, sometimes because of their cognitive or psychiatric disease.

Finally, we must take into account the manifestations of mistreatment. There are several that may come from any of the sources listed above, and to varying degrees.

Caregiver mistreatment: a taboo subject

If you do not recognize yourself as a caregiver, it is difficult to recognize yourself as a mistreated caregiver, explains Professor Éthier.

Indeed, how to approach a subject about which we know nothing? The key is to speak up. It is necessary to talk about it! During discussions, as part of her research, Professor Éthier affirms that it was not necessary to dig very far for workers and caregivers to give concrete examples of mistreatment. “This reality exists, hence the importance of talking about it and naming the situations,” [translation] she said.

Moreover, it is not uncommon to see caregivers better understand their situation after having grasped the extent of what can be considered as mistreatment: “This is not how they would have named it, but they admit experiencing at least one or the other of the situations provided as examples, such as not being recognized as a caregiver among those around them. People associate this reality much more with indifference rather than mistreatment,” [translation] explains Professor Éthier.

The silence therefore echoes a misunderstanding of:

  • the issue;
  • the role of caregiver;
  • the vocabulary.

How to prevent caregiver mistreatment?

Once you know about this situation, knowing that it may exist, you have to try to prevent it. The key is awareness. Professor Éthier and her team have also developed a toolbox including a poster, an animated guide and pamphlets to help stakeholders address the subject of caregiver mistreatment and discuss it with them.

The tools have been available on the RANQ website since April 28, 2021. They are downloadable free of charge. Hard copies are also available, but in limited quantities.

What is well-treatment?

Like Russian dolls, there are certain concepts that need to fit together. First of all, there is benevolence, which is the attitude of wanting to do good. Then there is charity, which corresponds to the desire to do good through concrete actions. And then, we have well-treatment, even wider, which includes the other two. To promote well-treatment, one must necessarily be benevolent and charitable. But benevolence alone is not necessarily a sign of well-treatment. It takes more than that.

Professor Éthier and her team also propose the following definition: “well-treatment of caregivers is a comprehensive support process. It is anchored in the social recognition of caregivers and in public policies. Well-treatment is the shared responsibility of institutions, family & friends, the people being cared for and caregivers. It aims to promote the support of caregivers, listening to their needs and valuing their contribution, their experience and their expertise in daily life. By promoting positive and respectful attitudes and behaviours, well-treatment can prevent mistreatment towards caregivers.” [translation]

“You also have to understand that in order to treat people well, you must first be treated well. For example, if we want health and social workers to treat us well, they must themselves be treated well in their work environment. In doing so, they will be able to treat caregivers well who, for their part, can treat the person they care for well. This is a global culture, a vision, a practice to be adopted at the society level,” [translation] adds Professor Éthier.

According to Professor Éthier, taking care of vulnerable people in society is a social and collective responsibility. Caregivers should not bear the burden of caring for their loved ones alone. In this sense, a caregiving society recognizes such role and offers the necessary resources.

“We are all likely to become a caregiver one day. Let us give ourselves the means to support this role collectively,” [translation] she concludes.


In Quebec, several assistance lines are available to support people who are experiencing certain problems such as mistreatment.

The Research Chair on Mistreatment of Older Adults has assembled a list of help resources and services available in Quebec (February 2021). You can refer to it regardless of whether you are a senior or not.

For any emergency, dial 911 immediately.
24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Our Caregiver Support service is also available to all caregivers!
Whether it is to discuss your experience or to encourage your well-treatment, our advisors are there for you:
Phone: 1 855 852-7784
Email: info-aidant@lappui.org
This service is free, confidential and open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.


Need to talk?

Contact our Caregiver Support Helpline for counselling, information et referrals.

Every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Free of charge.

call  Caregiver info :  1 855 852-7784