Domestic Abuse in Later Life
Like younger victims, older adults may be subjected to a pattern of abusive behavior in their relationships. The abuse may be committed by a family member, such as an adult child or grandchild, or by someone with whom they have an intimate relationship, such as a spouse or life partner. In some cases, the family member or intimate partner may also be the caregiver.
Domestic abuse is ongoing intentional behavior that stops victims from doing what they wish or forces them to behave against their will. It is not an isolated incident of abuse. Domestic abuse happens to older adults who are physically and mentally healthy as well as “vulnerable adults” who lack the physical and mental ability to care for themselves.
Abusers may use a range of tactics to maintain control, such as threats of institutionalization, denial of access to medical care or assistive devices, or isolation from family and friends. They may demand that victims continue to take care of them and the household, or that they sign over all finanical resources.
Possible Signs of Abuse
- Repeated “accidental injuries”
- Injuries that do not match the account of what happened
- Statements about being afraid
- Vague, chronic complaints
- Missed medical appointments
- Signs of depression
- Limited or no social contact outside of the abusive relationship
- References to the other person’s anger or temper
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Questions to Ask (Always Speak to the Victim First and Alone)
- How are things going with your spouse/partner/family member?
- Are you getting to see your friends and family?
- Has anyone made you feel afraid or threatened?
- Does anyone threaten you or force you to do things you don’t want to do?
- Have you ever been hurt by someone close to you?
- Have you ever been forced into sexual acts you did not wish to do? Is this going on now?
- Believe victims and offer hope and support.
- Explain that abuse can happen to anyone at any age.
- Explain that abuse does not have to include violence.
- Refer them to their local domestic violence program. If the victim is a vulnerable adult, contact Adult Protective Services.
(from Domestic Abuse…A Problem At Any Age by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence)