Poorly defined job requirements can result in intentional and unintentional harm to both foreign caregivers and their elderly employers, according to research being conducted at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. Ambiguity "can become a sort of tension. This tension can translate into frustration on both sides - this is a serious problem," Dr. Esther Iecovich, head of the university's master's program in gerontology and a leading researcher on foreign caregivers, said on Sunday. The work can be very difficult for the caregiver, especially the housework, Iecovich said. Their employer, usually a relative of the senior citizen, might perceive a different set of duties than the caregiver does, which creates stress for the foreign worker. This extra stress can result in harsh verbal and in some cases physical abuse of the elderly. Unintentional abuse may be caused by the worker's lack of knowledge in caretaking, Iecovich said. Many have no training or qualifications, leaving them totally unequipped to handle difficult clients such as those who are mental unstable. In some cases, though, it is the caregivers who are the victims of abuse. Most of the workers are very far from home and totally dependant on their employers. This dependency allows the employers to take advantage of the workers, according to Iecovich. The caregiver may become "overloaded" by work, even "like a slave." There are also instances of sexual abuse of the foreign workers. "I think there is a need for basic research to examine the correlation between role ambiguity and elderly abuse," Iecovich said. She referred to the problem of ambiguity as a "global issue." Europe imports the majority of its homecare workers from foreign countries, she said. For example, in Italy, about 80 percent of these workers are foreigners. The influx of caregivers into Europe has led to a deficiency of homecare workers in the migrants' home countries, she said. Europe is behind Israel in the study of the relationship between the migrant caregivers and the Western elderly, Iecovich said. Even the studies in Israel are still in the early stages, she said. There are 53,000 foreign caregivers in Israel, and one in three elderly Israelis employs a caregiver, she said. About 40,000 are from the Philippines, with most of the rest coming from Eastern European countries, particularly Moldova and Ukraine. Due to research like Iecovich's, last year new regulations went into effect regarding migrant workers, including provisions for short training programs aimed at equipping them with professional skills before they are allowed to work. However, Iecovich seemed pessimistic about these new regulations, saying they will be difficult to enforce.