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Call for aged care focus on domestic violence

older woman's hands on a walking stick

Media Release: 1st March, 2021

Australian researchers have called for additional services for survivors of intimate partner violence – warning those who have these experiences are more vulnerable to elder abuse.

Women who survive domestic violence continue to experience negative effects well into their older years but they are also more vulnerable to elder abuse.

Led by Flinders University and co-authored by University of Newcastle Professor Deborah Loxton, the study was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Flinders University researcher Dr Monica Cations said it was the first time the relationship between domestic violence survivors and elder abuse had been demonstrated.

“This relationship tells us that older survivors need close monitoring and prevention efforts to keep them safe from further abuse.”

The study looked at the psychological and physical impacts and risk for elder abuse associated with historical domestic (intimate partner) violence in older women based on the 12,259 women aged 70-75 included in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH).

In all, 792 or 6.4 per cent of the cohort reported they had survived domestic violence in their past and have had significantly poorer psychological wellbeing throughout their older age than women who had never experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) – confirming the need for clinical monitoring and ongoing support for survivors as they age.

“Women who survive domestic violence can continue to be socially isolated and financially dependent on others, and these factors can make them easy targets for elder abuse,” Dr Cations explains.

“Both domestic violence and aged care services need to be aware of the ongoing vulnerability of survivors. Elder abuse prevention efforts can be targeted to help keep domestic violence survivors safe,” she said.

Professor Loxton is Deputy Director of the ALSWH, a globally significant study tracking four generations of more than 57,000 women to explore a range of health outcomes.

The new study, ‘Impact of historical intimate partner violence on psychological wellbeing and vulnerability to elder abuse in older women’ (2021) by M Cations, HD Keage, KE Laver, J Byles and D Loxton, was published online in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The research on which this press release is based was conducted as part of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health by the University of Queensland and the University of Newcastle. We are grateful to the Australian Government Department of Health for funding and to the women who provided the survey data.