Raeann Rideout, M.A.
Raeann Rideout is currently the Central East, Regional Elder Abuse Consultant for Elder Abuse Ontario (EAO). In this role, Ms. Rideout has responsibility for implementing Ontario’s Strategy to Combat Elder Abuse. She 19 years of experience working in the field of elder abuse that includes, delivering training to front-line service providers; providing public education to older adults; and facilitating collaboration between community organizations, justice services, government, and senior organizations at local, provincial and national levels to enhance to enhance the response older adult’s at-risk or experiencing abuse.
Raeann is also the Co-chair of the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.
Domestic violence does not just affect younger people. It affects all cultures, religions, races, sexual orientations and every age, including older adults.
Often we don’t think that someone, especially a family member, would violently assault or harm an aging parent or loved one. Unfortunately, the abuse of older adults continues and is often at the hands of a spouse or family member, leaving the person to live in fear, silently suffering behind closed doors.
What is Family Violence?
Family violence occurs when someone engages in abusive behaviour to control and/or harm a member of their family or someone with whom they have an intimate relationship. It may include many different forms of abuse, ranging from physical and emotional to neglect being carried out (Dept. of Justice Canada, 2016)1. Those experiencing domestic abuse in later life also have an on-going relationship with the abuser who is a ‘trusted’ individual, including a spouse or partner, family member, and/or caregiver.
In Canada, the percentage of seniors in the population (16.9 per cent) currently exceeds the share of children (16.6 per cent).2 At the same time that the population is growing, the likelihood of more domestic abuse occurring in the future increases.3 Every year an estimated 200,000, or 10%, of seniors living in Ontario are victims of elder abuse and neglect. And that’s only part of the picture: experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect that is reported, as many as 23.5 cases go unreported.4 Those working in the justice sector as well as health care professionals are increasingly dealing with more and more cases of domestic violence, more so now than in the past.
How is Elder Abuse Different?
The complexities of domestic violence in later life differ from those towards younger people, particularly in the tactics used to take control of the older adult. An older adult’s vulnerability to abuse increases if there is dependency for care or if there are cognitive impairments due to stroke, dementia and/or physical disabilities that render them unable to protect themselves.
They may also encounter significant barriers that inhibit their ability to seek help or report the abuse to authorities. When an older adult’s own son or daughter is the person causing them harm - the same person whom they nurtured and raised through life - they find it extremely difficult to tell anyone what is happening.
There are overwhelming issues and fears such as: losing that family member in their life – often choosing to live with the abuse. The emotional anxiety of being rejected by other family members or the fear of starting over with little or no financial resources to do so, are all very real challenges and considerations for the older adult. Having to worry about housing or about being placed into a long-term care home, or not having knowledge about community supports and what will happen if reported or whether rights can be taken away or not.6,7
Domestic violence may take on different forms at various stages in a person’s later life.
The term Domestic Violence Grown Old is a longstanding phrase used for long-term spouses and intimate partner relationships, where abuse began and continued throughout the marriage. This is often referred to ‘early-onset domestic violence’.
‘Late-onset domestic violence’ occurs in long-term relationships/ marriages, which can unexpectedly lead to violence, perhaps triggered by an event or significant life change. Examples of such changes are: retirement, disability or having to care for the spouse in failing health. In addition, late onset violence may also be attributed to cognitive impairments common in aging, like those brought on by stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease or substance abuse (alcoholism), causing aggressive and violent behaviors in otherwise ordinary, respectful marriages.8
Shelters are seeing an influx of older women seeking services and assistance after experiencing domestic violence.
It’s Not Right!