Have you admired couples who have been married for 30 or more years? Older adults, even those who have been married long enough to celebrate these types of milestones, can be survivors of domestic violence. While some people believe that domestic violence only happens among young people, domestic violence occurs at all ages. Additionally, its impact, and whether and how survivors seek help, can vary by age.

Being an older adult in an abusive relationship can carry its own set of unique dynamics. Examples may include:

  • Duration of the Relationship: In some cases, the intimate partner relationship may have been long-term, spanning decades.
  • Tactics Evolve: The tactics used typically change throughout long-term relationships. Physical abuse may decrease and is replaced with an increase in emotional abuse, economic coercion, and verbal threats. Additionally, in some cases, the provision of care becomes a bargaining tool.
  • Isolation: Isolation is a common tactic of domestic violence. Since loneliness has been identified as a public health emergency impacting older adults, the tactic of isolation compounds the adverse impact on the mental and emotional health of the older adult.
  • Care: The perpetrator may use the provision of care against their older adult partner.
  • Financial Factors: When the perpetrator is the sole breadwinner, it forces economic dependency.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence and are often unaware that help is available. Fear, chronic health conditions, and lack of social support can be barriers to leaving an abusive situation and seeking help. Due to generational reasons, some older adults may not consider their circumstances as domestic violence. They may not have talked about domestic violence as much as we do now, and survivors often did not leave their home. When the survivor is dependent on the perpetrator economically, it can be scary to leave when the survivor is unsure of how they will be able to meet their basic needs on their own. Additionally, deteriorating health conditions can make it difficult to physically navigate leaving. Finally, older age can mean a diminished social circle, or an informal support system that cannot provide the help needed to leave an abusive situation.

Support includes:

  • Listen: Pay close attention to words that align with signs of domestic violence and common tactics used by a perpetrator since older survivors may not self-disclose or identify as being a survivor of domestic violence.
  • Validate: Acknowledge that abuse is not their fault and recognize that it takes courage to share these private details.
  • Connect: Support them while they report and receive services through a domestic violence provider.
  • Support: Help older adult survivors to complete necessary paperwork for resources, such as public assistance, community resources. They may need support like SOAR to help them apply for social security benefits.
  • Accommodate: Remember older adults may have unique needs (i.e., mobility, dietary, accessibility), and based on their experience of domestic violence may need a private room.

Read the full article about older survivors of domestic violence by Yolanda Stevens at National Alliance to End Homelessness.