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Combating Domestic Abuse in the Elderly

By: Garry Crystal - Updated: 11 Mar 2012 | comments*Discuss
Elderly Domestic Abuse Vulnerable Family

Domestic abuse in the elderly is not an uncommon issue in the UK and the abuse can take many forms. Unfortunately, elderly domestic abuse is all too often not taken as seriously as abuse directed at children or even other adults.

Elderly Domestic Abuse UK Statistics

Statistics published by the Department of Health on the abuse of the elderly state that over 340,000 cases of elderly abuse occur in the UK each year. One of the most disturbing aspects of this report is that around 70% of these incidents of abuse come from members of the elderly person’s family. These incidents of abuse are not just associated with medical conditions such as dementia. Thousands of elderly people are suffering physical assaults, sexual abuse and neglect in their own homes. According to the report the majority of the abuse comes from either a partner or spouse or from some other member of the family.

Financial abuse is another type of domestic abuse and this is common where elderly people are concerned. The abuse also occurs in a wide range of locations including care homes, day centres, residential and nursing homes. The elderly person’s own home is another common place where abuse does occur; abuse has also been known to occur in hospitals. Under the law, elderly people do not have any special protection in place unlike the laws on abuse of the children.

The Definition of Elderly Domestic Abuse

In 1993 the Action on Elderly Abuse (AEA) organisation defined elderly abuse as, 'A single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person'. Since the creation of this definition it has been adopted by various groups across the world including the World Health Organisation. All too often the trust element of this definition is disregarded by the elderly person’s abuser. Elderly people come in contact with a great many people who are regarded as trustworthy but who can easily exploit that trust. Unfortunately, elderly people are also highly vulnerable to abuse by strangers who may enter their lives.

Unintentional Elderly Domestic Abuse

Not all domestic abuse of the elderly is intentional. In some cases it can be a lack of training and skills on the part of the carer. This often happens when unqualified family members with little experience or time are left to look after elderly relatives. Many elderly people live in an isolated situation and are left to cope on their own, which is where neglect can arise. Unintentional abuse is known as passive abuse. This is still a serious issue but can be explained, understood and rectified more easily than intentional domestic abuse.

Spotting the Signs of Elderly Domestic Abuse

The different types of abuse will come with a variety of recognisable signs. Signs of violence can often be shown as cuts, bruises and bone fractures. But an elderly person’s mental state can be one of the major tell tale signs of a number of different types of abuse. Mood swings, anger, confusion and disorientation are some of the signs. If an elderly person tells implausible stories or becomes isolated and refuses to discuss issues openly this can be a sign that something is wrong. The AEA has a full list of the different signs that could identify the different types of abuse.

Seeking Help for Elderly Abuse

If a family member is worried about an elderly person’s situation there are a number of organisations that can provide help. These organisations will include:

  • Action on Elderly Abuse (AEA) can provide information and advice on elderly domestic abuse
  • Local social services departments should be contacted to investigate abuse of this type
  • The police can be contacted for help with this issue
  • Complaints can be made if care homes are involved and these should be directed to the Care Quality Commission
  • Complaints regarding abuse or neglect in hospitals should be directed to the NHS

Elderly people are prone to deteriorating mental and physical health. Although certain signs can appear to identify domestic abuse this may not always be the case. Professional advice should be taken in order to investigate any concerns over this issue. Anyone who is worried about what may appear to be an incident of elderly domestic abuse should contact their local social services department.

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