Ensuring that stereotyping older people is to be avoided, experience shows that some older people may feel less able to access services; they may be less able to access services; they may be less aware than younger people of the services and options available to them; or they may believe that services are only for younger people, or people with children.
The ‘self-help’ model familiar to younger people, and the possibility of calling a stranger to discuss personal or family problems may also be unfamiliar to some older people. The age profile of users of many domestic violence services tends to veer towards younger people.
Older people with no formal education or economic resources are also likely to be more economically vulnerable and more likely to be financially dependent on their abuser than younger people. They may have suffered abuse for many years in a long-standing relationship and feel shame or embarrassment from years of accepting abuse without apparent complaint.
Older people are likely to have grown up in a time where the home was a private domain, and it would not have been deemed socially acceptable to discuss matters that occurred behind closed doors
It could be extremely difficult for some older people to accept help – they may need more time, more reassurance and more confidence in what might happen and the services available, before they disclose abuse and accept help to move forward.
Also, when older people are seen to be injured, unhappy, depressed or have other difficulties, these may be assumed to be the result of health or social care needs if individuals are stereotyped using their age. Professionals should take great care to assess older people in a holistic way which avoids a rush to judgment based on their own expectations of the needs of older people and the services they require.
Although there is no widely accepted prevalence data for this age group, it is estimated that in 2015 approximately 120,000 individuals aged 65+ have experienced at least one form of abuse (psychological, physical, sexual or financial)
A six-point plan for tackling this abuse
- Do not assume that because a person is older they cannot be experiencing domestic abuse or because their partner is frail they cannot be a perpetrator of such abuse
- Be aware of the different types of abuse and how domestic abuse may differ from abuse in institutions
- Be aware of how to undertake a sensitive enquiry that does not put the person being abused at more risk
- Ensure you have local policies in place for identifying incidents of domestic abuse and take a team approach on delivering appropriate support
- Know what support services are available and how to access them
- Ensure pathways for greater coordination exist between the full range of professionals that provide regular services with older people, to ensure that domestic abuse concerns are not lost in the ‘umbrella’ term of safeguarding.