Abuse in Later Life

On average, Maine residents are among the oldest in the nation. As a state, we are increasingly aware of the toll elder abuse is taking on our neighbors and our communities. Elder abuse can take many forms, but most is perpetrated by adult children or spouses.

Many cases could be described as domestic abuse in later life, in which people have endured and survived many years of abuse and control at the hands of their partner or spouse. Now, as elders, they face continued abuse with new vulnerabilities. This is the type of elder abuse that we at MCEDV work most closely to address.

In many ways, domestic abuse in later life follows patterns we see at any age. But some factors can be especially present for older folks:

  • Older adults may be especially physically vulnerable or easily isolated. They may depend upon the abusive person for their basic everyday needs like cooking, bathing, and transportation, especially in declining health. It may be more difficult to safely escape the violence if an individual’s mobility is limited. An abusive person may tamper with adaptive technologies that are essential for a person’s autonomy. For example, smashing hearing aids or keeping wheelchairs or walkers out of reach. Conversely, it may be the abusive person whose health declines, and their partner is in the position of caring for them in the face of the past, and sometimes ongoing, abuse.
  • Economic challenges pose significant obstacles for many survivors, regardless of age. Many older adults live on fixed incomes and may be unable to afford to live independently, even if they wish to do so. Leaving home could mean saying goodbye to the place they have lived for many decades, perhaps even where they raised their family. The abusive person may have sole control of all of the household’s finances, and that can seem quite normal to the outside world.
  • There can be cultural factors at play. Older adults are more likely than younger to identify with some form of formal religion. For some, their ideas about relationships and marriage were determined by the norms when they grew up. For example, traditionally, marriage was considered to be for life. Women were taught that they were supposed to defer to their husbands, no matter what. Many older Mainers have strong privacy and self-sufficiency values, which make naming or sharing the abuse doubly taboo. These and other ingrained social values are powerful. They deserve to be respected, not minimized, by those seeking to offer support.
  • Reaching out for help is seldom easy. It can be challenging for older adults, especially when the person who is hurting them is their own son or daughter. Older adults may feel torn between reaching out to help themselves and making a call that could potentially result in serious consequences for their adult child.

Our member resource centers offer help and support to people impacted by domestic abuse across the age span. At the Coalition, we provide ongoing training and technical assistance to build our members’ capacities to serve survivors who are older, and we collaborate with partners such as the Maine Council on Elder Abuse Prevention to build awareness of the unique factors facing older survivors.