The Project






Overview and background to the project 









We are investigating the experience of family carers who are affected by violent, abusive or harmful behaviour by the older person for whom they care. We are not examining the causes of illness or seeking to investigate or hold any older person ‘responsible’ for behaviour which may have developed during illness and disease.  Rather, we are examining the impact of living with this behaviour on the part of family carers.  We aim to raise awareness of this sensitive and hidden issue to develop understanding about the needs of carers and those they care for.




There is limited evidence about how family carers are affected by violent, abusive and harmful behaviour from the older people for whom they care.  What research exists suggests that this problem is likely to have a big impact on family carers’ health and well-being.


Experiencing and coping with harmful behaviour within the family home or within a relationship of long-term caring may increase people’s feelings of being trapped, controlled and unable to bring about change. Feelings of loyalty and duty may also contribute to a feeling that harmful behaviour should be tolerated; perhaps until the caring relationships ends or breaks down. Wanting to protect and care for an older family member may inhibit carers sharing their experiences and asking for help.  Similarly, a lack of public awareness about the issue may make it hard to explain and explore, which in turn contributes to the problem remaining hidden.


Taken together, this background research suggests that families affected by this problem have complex and largely unmet needs.  This project aims to begin to develop new insights into this hidden and significant problem.


Project phases 


Project overview



Reviewing the literature

We searched for and analysed available evidence about the problem.  This helped us to identify what is already known about violence, abuse and harmful behaviour towards carers.  It also helped us to identify what is not known and what type of research would be most useful to carry out.


The advisory group 

We are working with an advisory group of carers and/ or professionals with experience or an interest in this issue.  We will work with the group in making decisions about the project and draw on their experience and expertise.  In this way, the project will draw on different types of knowledge (research, experience-based and personal).  We think that all these types of learning and knowing will be important in developing understanding and awareness about this complicated topic.


One-to-one interviews with carers

We will talk with past or present carers who have experienced violent, harmful or abusive behaviour from the older person for whom they care/d for.  We will talk with people about their views and experiences of family life and being a carer.  We will also ask how people cope with difficult or abusive behaviour and what challenges they face. The point of the interview is to better understand people’s experiences.  There are no right or wrong answers and people can share as much or as little they like.


Group interviews with carers

We will organise meetings for carers or ex-carers to discuss issues relating to this topic.  This could include thinking about the barriers and difficulties people may experience coming forward to ask for help.  It may also include reflecting on why this issue is hidden and how this could change.  People involved in the group interview do not need to have had direct experience of violent, abusive or harmful behaviour from the person for whom they care.


Group interviews with professionals

We will also organise group meetings for people who work with families affected by this issue or could be affected by this issue.  This might include people working in health, social care and voluntary services who support older people, carers and families affected by violence and abuse.  We will carry out these interviews after talking with carers in the interview and group interview stages.  Based on what is said during these phases, we will use the professional meetings to plan how services can better identify and support affected families.


Writing up and sharing the project findings

The research team, will look closely at the issues identified during the interviews and meetings.  We will reflect on what we have learnt and also what we don’t know or are unsure about.  This is the analysis phase of the project.  We aim to produce guidance for health and social care professionals about supporting affected families.

We will provide a summary report of the project for all those involved and share findings on this website.  We are also keen to present and share the findings of the project with local services and individuals.  We may publish parts of the project and will let people know if this is going to happen.  We will recognise the contributions that people have made to the project in any such publications.



The project is funded by the Medical and Dental Sciences College at the University of Birmingham.