What is elder abuse: Why does it happen?

There are many reasons why elder abuse occurs and these may vary with each incident. In some circumstances it is an spontaneous act, perpetrated by someone who takes advantage of an opportunity that arises. In other cases it is premeditated and calculated. In still other situations it is caused by prejudices or by the environment that creates institutional attitudes and approaches. In all cases there is an element of power and control exercised by the perpetrator over the abuser.

Some abuse however is caused by ignorance, lack of skills or lack of external support. This is particularly the cases with passive neglect, where there is no intent to harm but is caused by unintentional failures. The impact on the older person however is always significant and is always defined by AEA as abuse, regardless of the motivation or intent of the perpetrator.

At home some of the causes would appear to include:

poor quality long term relationships,

a carer’s inability to provide the level of care required,

a pattern of family violence exists or has existed in the past,

a carer has mental or physical health problems,

the social isolation of a family member.

Abuse within a family situation can be the most challenging to address and needs a mixture of tact, sensitivity, understanding and robustness. It is often difficult for an older person to believe, or to admit, that they are being abused by a member of their own family.

In other settings abuse may be a symptom of a poorly run establishment.

It is likely to occur when staff are inadequately trained, poorly supervised, have little support from management, or work in isolation. Abuse is not linked to staff low pay, as is evidenced by the thousands of care workers who provide excellent care in the UK. But it can be linked to inadequate funding of care provision, both by care providers and also by local authority and health commissioners of care.

Other reasons

There are many academics who invest significant time and energy in researching the nature of abuse and who put forward numerous explanations for why it occurs. Some of these are:

the intergenerational transmission of abuse,           stress,

dependency,           isolation,           communication difficulties

psychological relationship between abuser and victim,

poverty,           minority status,           age discrimination,

disability discrimination


Additional information

Why does it happen?              What to do and who to contact

Useful contacts

Physical abuse                         Psychological abuse

Financial abuse                       Sexual abuse

Neglect                                   Family Abuse

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