Psychology of Domestic Violence against the Elderly.

Psychology of Domestic Violence against the Elderly.

Elderly abuse manifests itself in numerous forms. Most commonly, it consists of violence, either physical, emotional or in some cases sexual, inflicted on the elderly person by people who should be looking after them. It may also consist of financial swindling and other fraudulent activities. The perpetrators are often the adult children of the victim or it may be staff working in a care home, a hospice or a hospital.

Elderly abuse is more widespread than commonly acknowledged, as millions of cases go unreported annually. But why would one wish to harm an elderly and most likely defenseless human being? What could possibly be achieved by such wanton cruelty? The answers to these questions are not straightforward. In almost all cases of elderly abuse, numerous factors are at work. First, it may be the case that members of a household may have a predisposition towards behaving in a non-nurturing and uncaring fashion with each other.

Children may have been abused by their parents while growing up until they came to view this behaviour as an acceptable means of parenting. Once they become parents themselves, they then repeat these actions not only with their own children but also with their own abusers, their parents, particularly when they become older and less capable of defending themselves.

It is also possible that spousal abuse, carried out for many years, continues when both victim and perpetrator reach old age. In other cases, the roles may be reversed as the abusive partner succumbs to the effects of old age to a greater degree than their abused spouse, who then takes the opportunity to exact revenge. Domestic abuse of the elderly may also emerge when the elderly relative becomes incapacitated and in greater need of round the clock care, most commonly by their more able relatives.

This is by no means an easy task for the carer and can be extremely taxing, both physically and mentally. Some put-upon carers, instead of seeking a more viable solution such as additional support or arranging for their relative to go into care, may resort to physical violence as a means of stress relief. In some instances, the roles may be reversed.

The son or daughter may act abusively towards an elderly parent on whom they depend for accommodation or financial reasons, often as a means of extracting more resources from them. It has been suggested that the more dependent the elderly person becomes on the abusive care-giver, the more the ill feeling and resentment harboured against them grows.

Studies have suggested that those who suffer from poorer health are more likely to be abused than those who still maintain a relatively good bill of health. On some occasions the abuse may be caused by stress which has not arisen as a result of the burdens of care-giving, but from other pressures in the abuser’s life. These may include the breakdown of a marriage, financial problems such as debt or loan repayments or illnesses such as depression.

The abuser may see their elderly relative as a quick and easy way of unburdening themselves. Stress may take a long time to build up and the abuser may not even be aware of it until things become out of hand. In these instances, the abuser should seek proper medical treatment at once as numerous resources and options are available. Addiction is another common cause of abuse in the elderly. Addictive substances are a sure-fire way of reducing a person’s ability to cope with strains and stress and to react in an appropriate manner. One study in Canada which examined cases of elderly abuse from across the country found that binge drinking was a direct contributing factor in 14.6% of the abuse cases, while another 18.7% indicated that the abuse was a secondary result of alcoholism in the care-giver. Another frequent cause of domestic violence against the elderly is ageism combined with a general lack of knowledge of care.

The abuser may hold prejudiced or stereotypical views of the elderly serving no useful purpose combined with an inability or unwillingness to accept the reality that the ageing process increases the need for the elderly person to depend on others for help with day-to-day tasks. It has also been determined that any form of abuse, be it against the elderly, children, or spouses, occurs most frequently in families who are socially isolated and cut off from the rest of society.

Not only could this be a contributing factor in individual cases of abuse, it may also offer one reason as to why so many cases of elderly abuse go unreported. Everyone becomes angry from time to time and we have a right to be upset if people do something to annoy or offend us. But physical violence in any form is, regardless of excuse, wholly unacceptable. If you suspect someone you know is the victim of elderly abuse, look for the following signs to help confirm your suspicions.

Unexplained signs of physical injury such as scars, bruises, sprains, dislocations and broken bones are the most telling signs of abuse, as are signs of physical restraining such as rope burns on the wrists or perhaps the ankles. If your elderly friend or relative is in a care home and a carer refuses to allow you to see them alone, this is another tell-tale sign that abuse is taking place. Emotional signs should also be borne in mind.

These may include signs which may otherwise suggest dementia, such as rocking, mumbling and sucking. If you are a caregiver and you feel you may be in danger of abusing those in your care, take steps immediately to relieve stress. Ask friends and neighbours if they could assist you in caring for your relative, consider learning anger management techniques and take care of yourself. Make sure you are getting sufficient rest and if you are suffering from depression, make sure you seek the appropriate treatment. There may also be a support group for carers that you could join and seek advice and counselling from. At the end of the day, you are in a far better position to care for your elderly relative if you also look after yourself.


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