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The Dynamics of Abuse in Later Life/Domestic Violence in Later Life

No matter our age, we are all entitled to living a life free from abuse. With June being Elder Abuse Awareness month, increasing awareness around elder abuse and abuse in later life is imperative. According to that the CDC, approximately one in ten older adults will experience some form of abuse.

Elder abuse is an intentional act (or a failure to act) that results in risk of harm to an older adult. Elder abuse is often committed by a caregiver or a person in a relationship with the older adult involving an expectation of trust and is rooted in power and control dynamics (CDC, 2020).

While elder abuse is a broad term that applies to all forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older individuals, abuse in later life is a component of elder abuse focusing on abuse committed by a person who is in an ongoing relationship with the victim. Abuse later in life is a term used to describe the nexus between domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse (NCALL, 2021).

These cases result in adverse consequences including poor health, severe injuries and long recovery times, increased risk of mortality, and higher risk of institutional placement. Furthermore, it leads to devastating financial loss, poor quality of life and mental health such as depression and suicide.

To create an appropriate response to abuse in later life, it is critical to understand the dynamics present. Like cases of domestic violence and sexual violence experienced by younger adults, power and control dynamics are the core of abuse in later life. Perpetrators of abuse in later life aim to control and maintain power over their victims, and manipulate and coerce the victim for benefit (monetarily, sexual gratification, access to housing or medications, etc.) (Bancroft, 2002; Stark, 2007).

The following are examples of the unique dynamics of abuse in later life:

Relationship between victim and abuser:

In most cases of abuse in later life, the spouse or intimate partner of the victim is the perpetrator. Abuse may have lasted the duration of the relationship or emerges as the couple ages. Abuse occurs in all types of relationships and not just committed by intimate partners. It can be perpetrated by adult children, grandchildren, other family members, caregivers, or any person in a position of authority.