Domestic violence affects people of all ages, including the elderly. Elderly abuse can take many forms. People may, at first, think of abuse as physical or sexual in nature but there are other forms that can affect the elderly such as neglect, isolation, emotional, and psychological abuse. What all of these behaviors have in common are they are ways to exert control or power over a person. The elderly may be more vulnerable to abuse due to disability, illness, smaller social circles of support, lack of resources, and a loved one’s or their own substance use.
There are many possible scenarios for domestic violence against the elderly. Domestic violence may have existed in a relationship for a long time and becomes elder abuse as the couple ages together. Elderly couples or individuals may experience changes in their relationship due to illness, disability, retirement, or other circumstances where the violence was not present in the relationship previously but is considered “late onset relationship violence”.
A feeling of vulnerability among the elderly may allow abuse to continue.
Caregivers, family, or friends may be abusive or exploitative in their relationships with the elderly. The very fact that an elderly person doesn’t feel completely independent and self-sufficient may leave them vulnerable and pressured to continue in an abusive relationship for fear of losing the support, help, or other resources they currently receive and need. For many people, the “devil you know” is better than reporting and taking a chance on the unknown.
The elderly may fear their abuse claims will not be believed and then they may face retaliation from their abuser. This factor of dismissal of their claims can be especially difficult to overcome if the elderly victim indeed does has dementia or has cognitive losses due to substance use.
Financial exploitation may be involved in abuse.
Family, friends, or caregivers may financially exploit an elderly person by moving in with them, taking money, checks, credit cards, identity information, or other resources from them. Those caregivers who use substances themselves may even setting up drug distribution from their victim’s home. Elderly victims may also have their medications taken from them and sold or used by others or, alternatively, they can be administered excessive dosages by caregivers to make them more compliant.
Substance abuse by the victim or abuser may be the cause.
This may be present in domestic violence situations either in the abuser, the victim, or both parties. The elderly person may have been using substances prior to the abuse and become a target because of that vulnerability or they may turn to substance use once the abuse starts as a way to cope with the abuse. For those elderly whose substance use has been long term, they may have long ago burnt bridges with friends and family and feel they have fewer choices for caregiving supports. Those persons in their lives who are still willing to help elderly substance users may take advantage of that situation and prey upon that fear. The elderly using substances are likely to either self-neglect care or experience neglect in their care by others.
While substance use may be associated with domestic violence, it does not cause a person to be violent against another, although an abuser may blame their actions on alcohol or other substances. Substances don’t “make” anyone do anything but an abuser may use substance use as an excuse to feel entitled to abuse their victim. Caregivers may turn to substances as a coping mechanism, albeit a poor one, for feeling overwhelmed by the demands placed upon them. Instead of seeking support or finding alternative ways to meet caregiving needs, their use of substances may then lead them to deciding to lash out against their victim.
Programs are available for help.
Substance use is always a choice and there are ways to move forward beyond substance use. If substance use is involved in abuse, there are programs that help all parties to face their decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and determine a plan to meet the obligations and joys of life without substance use. It’s never too late to find a permanent solution to substance use and enjoy life without fear.
Saint Jude Retreats, is an alternative to traditional substance use treatment. Saint Jude Retreats provides a program for people with substance use problems that concentrates on self-directed positive and permanent change. Through the program, we offer the opportunity for individuals to self-evaluate and explore avenues for life enhancement.