Domestic Violence among Older Adults

When I used to think of domestic violence I would picture a 20 or 30 something couple fighting over a myriad of marital woes.  I thought about spousal abuse and child abuse.  I did not think about older adults.  I was wrong!

Domestic violence (DV) is defined as an intentional infliction of harm to another family member, without regard for that person’s rights or safety (Flannery, 2003).  This includes physical or verbal harm related to sexual abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, intimidation or verbal abuse as well as physical aggression.

DV does not discriminate and crosses all ages, ethnicities, genders.  DV late in life is more common among women.  One study showed that 25% of the women with a lifelong partner experienced abuse.  39% of those women described severe sexual abuse and 70% reported severe non-physical abuse (Bonomi, 2007).

One factor that adds to abuse among older adults is dementia.  Stressed out caregivers are more likely to be abusive.  There are so many factors that add to this.  The caregiver may feel the frustration of watching a family member slowly slip away.  There may be a financial drain, a sense of isolation from other family members and friends, and a physical and emotional drain from the day to day requirements of caregiving.  Caregivers in need should reach out to their local Alzheimer’s Association.

If you suspect DV of an older adult is occurring call Adult Protective Services (APS) immediately.  Each county has an APS office to investigate abuse.