Risk Factors

Risk Factors Associated with Elder Abuse

No one risk factor can explain or cause abuse. In the majority of instances where abuse is occurring there are a combination of risk factors that contribte to it (1).

Studies have shown that certain situations, behaviours, relationship issues, or health issues are commonly found in situations of elder abuse. When one or more of these factors are detected, it increases the likelihood that abuse will occur, or is already occurring. It is important not to jump to conclusions, but to check out the facts so as to avoid inappropriate actions. The risk factors can be multiple and can apply to the older person or the alleged abuser.

Identification of risk factors can assist in:-

  • Alerting you that a situation has the potential for abuse to occur
  • Gaining a better understanding of an abusive situation so that appropriate strategies can be acted upon

The risk factors may involve one or more of the following:-

Family conflict/dynamics
Older people will be much more at risk if there has been a history of violence within their family situation. Conflict within families does not always cease when the older person moves to residential aged care. The sources of relationship/family conflict covers sensitive areas:

  • these can be complicated since they are often considered private family business
  • the person using abusive behaviours may have been abused by the older person now living in residential care
  • the normal reaction of their family to stress or their usual method of resolving issues is violence. It may continue from generation to generation
  • other family members losing respect for the older person as an adult, who may be incapable of making their own decisions. Unfair influence/pressure may be placed on them to make decisions in a particular way

Dependency can involve either the older person or the alleged abuser, or both at the same time. These dependencies can be physical, emotional, psychological or financial. Either the older person or the alleged abuser (or both), may feel powerless or fearful that their needs will not be met. For example:-

  • The alleged abuser may rely on the older person for money/support eg gambling or debts
  • The older person may rely on the alleged abuser for contact or transportation
  • The older person may not want to stop abuse through any action that they consider may harm the alleged abuser (this may well be so where the abuser has a mental or physical illness)
  • The older person may have a dementing illness and not be capable of making decisions, or taking steps to protect themselves

Alcohol and substance abuse
Issues of substance dependency may influence the ability of the older person or the alleged abuser to make decisions, or be reluctant to stop or protect themselves from the abuse. For example:

  • Where the alleged abuser may have alcohol management problems, the older person may want to ensure that any strategies undertaken to stop the abuse do not adversely affect them
  • The older person and/or the alleged abuser may suffer from an inability to make decisions to stop the abuse occurring

(1) Kurrle, S. & Sadler P. (1994) Assessing and Managing Abuse of older people.- A Handbook for the Helping Professionals. Alpha Biomedical Communications, N.S.W.