Risk Factors for Elder Abuse

A growing problem that often goes undiscussed is the abuse of elders. Like any other type of domestic violence, elder abuse is an extremely complex problem. It often combines economic, social, and psychological factors along with the physical and mental conditions of the victim and the perpetrator. This all contributes to the maltreatment of seniors. While this article should by no means be considered an all-inclusive list of types of elder maltreatment, it may open people’s eyes to a problem that is happening as you read this.

The Progression of Domestic Violence

The first thing we must acknowledge is that in many cases of elder abusers, the perpetrator is the spouse. In many cases, these are partners that have a history of domestic violence traditions and have simply become old. It is a partnership where one partner has traditionally exerted control and power over the other party through isolation, physical violence and threats, emotional abuse, and other tactics.


Personal Problems of Abusers

Oftentimes the abuser is dependent on the victim for housing, financial assistance, or another form of support. This is especially true in the case of adult children. It is often that these abusers need support because of personal problems, which may include dysfunctional personality characteristics, alcohol or drug abuse, or mental illness. Research shows that the risk of elder abuse appears to increase drastically when adult children are living with the senior.

Living with Others and Isolation

Both being socially isolated and living with someone else are associated with increased elder abuse rates. Even though those findings may appear contradictory, it relates to the fact that those who live with the victim are presented with more chance to abuse the person, and may yet still be isolated from a larger community (or in an attempt to keep the abuse a secret, isolate the elder). There is currently more research being done to determine the relationship between these two factors.

Other Theories

There are other theories around the subject of elder abuse as well. Unfortunately, because this is often not something that victims come forward with, few of these theories have been tested to determine whether they are in fact factors or not. It is possible that with additional research, these following theories turn out to play a role in a percentage of elder abuse cases.

  • Personal characteristics of the elder – These theories suggest that significant needs for assistance, problematic personality traits, disruptive behaviors, and dementia all play an important role in the odds of an elder being abused. So far, the research has shown unclear or contradictory conclusions.
  • Caregiver stress – This is a commonly stated theory that suggests that the burden of taking care of dependent elders becomes so overwhelming that caregivers may end up neglecting, lashing out, or otherwise harming the elder. Even though there has been little research done on the subject, it did show that few cases fit this particular model.
  • A cycle of violence – There are some theorists who believe that domestic violence should be considered a form of learned problem-solving behavior. A behavior that is transferred from one generation to the next. While this theory is well established in child abuse and domestic violence, there is no research available that would suggest it is a direct cause of elder abuse.

Jonathan Rosenfeld

I am an attorney in Chicago who represents people from all walks of life who have been involved in accidents or harmed due to the negligence of others. Many of my cases involve: nursing home negligence, trucking accidents and medical malpractice.

One thought on “Risk Factors for Elder Abuse

  • March 21, 2013 at 12:47 am

    This reading does not leave the reader with any info for helping these people


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