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Who is an Abuser of the Elderly

Who is an Abuser of the Elderly

Elderly abuse is when the aggressor/abuser wants to intimidate, isolate, dominate or control another human being. Older adults affected by abuse often know and trust the person mistreating them. Elder abuse often occurs because of the abuser’s power and control over an older person. In some situations, the abuse may also result from addiction issues (drugs, alcohol or gambling), mental health problems, a cycle of family violence or ageism. Abuse can happen when the aggressor wants to intimidate, isolate, dominate or control another person.

The majority of abusers are relatives, typically the older adult’s spouse/partner or sons and daughters, although the type of abuse differs according to the relationship. In some situations the abuse is “domestic violence grown old”, a situation in which the abusive behaviour of a spouse or partner continues into old age.

People who abuse or neglect older adults are often functioning only marginally themselves. They may suffer from psychological or physical impairments and may be ill-equipped to handle the responsibility required of their own lives. Perpetrators of elder abuse can include anyone in a position of trust, control or authority. An abuser can be:

  • A spouse, partner
  • A friend, neighbour
  • A volunteer worker, a paid worker, practitioner
  • Caused by a family member, a friend, someone who provides assistance with basic needs or services, or health care providers in institutional settings.
  • In many situations of elder abuse, the abuser is dependent on the older adult for money, food or shelter.
  • Relative
  • Adult children and their spouses or partners
  • Their offspring and other extended family members
  • Children and living relatives who have a history of substance abuse or have had other life troubles are of particular concern.
  • Solicitor or any other individual with the intent to deprive a vulnerable person of their resources.

A caregiver is more at risk of being an abuser if they

  • Has a personal problem such as alcohol or medication abuse, mental or emotional illness, physical health problems, or low self-esteem
  • Was abused as a child, grew up in a household where violence was used to resolve disputes, or has a history of conflict with the older person
  • Is experiencing stresses such as marital conflict, unemployment, economic problems, lack of activities outside the home, or caring for both parents and children
  • Lacks experience and skills as a caregiver, does not understand the older person’s disease, has little support from other family members, or has unrealistic expectations for being a caregiver

Observable factors that could indicate that abuse by a caregiver is happening include

  • Not letting the older person speak for himself/herself or have a conversation without the caregiver present.
  • Family members blaming the older person for being a burden or perceiving symptoms of a disease as intentional behaviour.
  • Conflicting accounts of an incident by family members and the victim.
  • Caregiver is financially dependent on the older person.
  • Older person lives in overcrowded environment with caregiver and is socially isolated outside the family.

Tactics of an Elderly Abuser

Some perpetrators may “groom” an older person (befriend or build a relationship with them) in order to establish a relationship of trust. Older people living alone who have no adult children living nearby are particularly vulnerable to “grooming” by neighbors and friends who would hope to gain control of their estates.

In some situations, an older couple may be attempting to care and support each other and failing, in the absence of external support. With sons and daughters it tends to be financial abuse, justified by a belief that it is nothing more than the “advance inheritance” of property, valuables and money.


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