Abuse doesn’t discriminate against age — and an unsettling number of older Americans are in abusive relationships that either begin in or persist into later life.
No one deserves abuse, and no matter what your situation, there are ways to find help. It is never too late to report the violence and talk to someone about it.
Abuse can begin later in life or start earlier and continue into later years. There are many causes for late onset domestic violence, including stresses resulting from retirement, disability, shifting roles for family members and sexual changes. Older men and women are also more likely to experience domestic violence at this age if they enter a new relationship later in life.
What Does This Look Like?
In addition to the known symptoms of domestic abuse, frequent and more severe injuries, confusion and disassociation are characteristics of late onset domestic violence. Social workers, police and medical professionals find these elderly-specific indicators to be difficult to diagnose because they often occur in one form or another without the presence of domestic abuse.
Why Is It Underreported?
There are lots of reasons people don’t report abuse in their later years of life. Retirement and disability often render elderly individuals financially unstable and they may fear losing health care benefits or falling into poverty or homelessness. If they do rely on their partner for caretaking and support they may have fewer options after leaving.
Because of generational norms, some older women feel that speaking out about domestic violence would be “airing dirty laundry,” and prefer to keep their personal lives private. In addition, many individuals are anxious about leaving a partner late in life with the concern that they may spend the rest of their days alone.
How Can You Help Someone You Know?
Many domestic violence campaigns and services don’t address late onset domestic violence and instead focus mainly on people between 18 and 45 years old. This limits the availability of assistance older people. Fortunately, specific resources do exist. Adult Protective Services (APS) in all states serve abused older victims.
Do you know someone who may be experiencing abuse at the hand of their partner? Since there are unique reasons many older Americans don’t report abuse, speaking up if you notice red flags could be the support someone needs to begin to get help.
It’s never too late to reclaim your life, and we want to help. Call NDVH at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to chat with an advocate about the abuse — whether it’s happening to you personally, or to someone you know.
- NCEA: National Center on Elder Abuse | Administration on Aging
- Eldercare Locator (Also available at 1-800-677-1116)
- “Late Life Domestic Violence: What the Aging Network Needs to Know” from NCEA
- National Adult Protection Services Association