With increasing life expectancy, senior adults are a growing segment of our population, and they are living active, independent lives that are longer than in previous generations. Dating, marriage and intimate relationships in later life are now commonplace, yet we often fail to consider or recognize the signs of dating or domestic abuse among our senior population.
• Like in other abusive relationships, seniors may be subjected to hitting, kicking, biting or strangulation. Those who are medically compromised or physically fragile may be vulnerable to neglect or other forms of physical abuse that are less obvious. Stealing medications; over- or under-medicating a victim; confinement or restraints; withholding assistance (such as destroying or hiding glasses or a cane); refusing medical care; or providing inadequate food, hygiene, or clothing are all forms of physical abuse and neglect.
• Sexual abuse describes any treatment or activity of a sexual nature without the victim’s consent. This certainly includes rape and sexual assault, but it also could include sexual humiliation, being forced to undress or being forced to witness sexual material or acts without their consent.
• Seniors may be subjected to psychological abuse, such as intimidation, yelling or threats; humiliation or ridicule; social isolation or ignoring; or gaslighting, which is an intentional attempt to make a person feel confused, question her sanity or distrust her own memories.
• Financial abuse of seniors may include stealing; unauthorized use or misuse of property, financial accounts, or credit cards; forging their signature on documents; investment fraud; health care fraud; phony charities; or scam schemes.
It’s critical to note that, perhaps more than other populations, seniors may be subjected to domestic abuse from non-intimate partners, such as family members or caretakers. According to the National Institute on Aging, the leading perpetrators of elder abuse are adult children (40 percent), followed by spouses (15 percent). Seniors experiencing this treatment may not recognize it as abusive, or they may hesitate to reach out for help due to fear, shame or guilt. People of elder generations may have been taught that it’s improper to discuss intimate details or family “secrets” with others. Some may believe that abusive treatment in marriage or dating is normal or to be expected. They may fear that leaving a long-term marriage or family living arrangement will leave them homeless or without support. Love for their children or spouse also can make it painful to consider reporting abuse or criminal behavior. Rather than assume that a victim will reach out for help, it’s important that a social network of trusted people (neighbors, colleagues, friends, clergy or medical professionals) is available to watch for signs of neglect or mistreatment and is willing to ask questions and offer help or resources when needed.
Any person experiencing domestic abuse here in south Mississippi can receive help by contacting the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence at (800) 800-1396. Free, confidential support is available, including emergency shelter when needed. Anyone suspecting abuse or neglect of a senior or vulnerable adult also can make a confidential report for investigation to Mississippi Adult Protective Services at (844) 437-6282.
Rene’ Davis is communications manager for the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 207-2375.