Abuse in Later Life

On average, Maine residents are among the oldest in the nation, and as a state we are increasingly aware of the toll elder abuse is taking on our neighbors and on 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, and 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 there are some factors that can be especially present for older folks:

  • Older adults may be especially physically vulnerable, and/or easily isolated. They may depend upon the abusive person for their basic everyday needs – cooking, bathing, transportation – especially if they are 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 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 on their own, even if they wish to do so. Leaving the 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 finances in the household, 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, and women were taught that they were supposed to defer to their husbands, no matter what. Many older Mainers have strong values of privacy and self-sufficiency, which make naming or sharing the abuse doubly taboo. These and other ingrained social values are powerful, and deserve to be respected, not minimized, by those seeking to offer support.
  • Reaching out for help is almost never easy or simple. For older adults, it can be especially difficult – 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.