A new study has found that when older victims of abuse live alone with their abusers, they are up to four times more likely to endure more severe levels of mistreatment.
In fact, the simple presence of other live-in (non-abusive) residents acts as a significant protective factor, according to researchers at the University of Toronto, Cornell University, and Weill-Cornell Medical College.
“Older adults are particularly vulnerable to severe mistreatment when the abuser has unrestricted and uninhibited access to the victim,” said co-author Dr. Karl Pillemer, Hazel E. Reed Professor at Cornell University’s Department of Human Development and Professor of Gerontology at the Weill Cornell Medical College.
Data for the study came from a large-scale, representative sample of 4,156 cognitively intact, community-dwelling older adults across New York State.
Research on older adults tends to categorize subjects according to different age groups, including the “youngest old” (ages 60 to 74) and the “oldest old” (ages 85 and up). One surprising finding was that across each type of elder abuse, it was the “youngest old” who suffered the most severe forms of mistreatment.
“These findings challenge the prevailing belief that the oldest old are more vulnerable to the most severe forms of elder abuse, although we need more research that includes older adults with cognitive impairment and those living in long-term care settings,” said co-author Dr. Mark Lachs, Psaty Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Co-Chief of Geriatrics at the Weill Cornell Medical College and Director of Geriatrics at the New York Presbyterian Health System.
For the most part, research on elder abuse has been conducted in general yes/no terms, but this study examined different forms of elder abuse along a continuum of severity.
“We know that the yes/no characterization of elder abuse does not capture the complex, lived reality of mistreatment or align with the way clinicians examine and intervene on the problem,” said lead researcher Dr. David Burnes, an assistant professor with the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.
Among older adults reporting physical abuse since age 60, more than two-thirds (62 percent) experienced abuse within the past year and 11 percent experienced more than ten physically abusive events in the past year.
“Previous studies on elder abuse have found that approximately one in 10 older adults experience some form of elder abuse,” Burnes said.
“As the population of older adults in North America nearly doubles over the next 25 years, this problem will just get bigger. Older adults who are abused have shorter lifespans, and are more likely to be hospitalized and experience mental health issues.”
Source: University of Toronto