Guest Post: Raising Awareness of Abuse in Later Life

health staff

This is the third post of a series highlighting the topics, speakers, and participants featured during FUTURES’ 2015 National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence. Today’s guest bloggers are Bonnie Brandl, director of the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life, and Firoza Chic Dabby co-director of the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Gender-Based Violence.

As advocates working in the fields of domestic and sexual violence, we know that abuse transcends cultural, racial, and socioeconomic boundaries. Yet conversations about violence against women and girls too often exclude the experiences of older women.

In the United States and globally, important progress has been made in linking women’s health with resources to prevent and respond to intimate partner violence, but the vast majority of these efforts have been directed towards women of reproductive age. This lack of attention to violence across the life course has contributed to an insufficient knowledge of elder abuse: the physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, or financial exploitation of an older adult.

A widespread, but hidden problem, elder abuse is often undetected because it can manifest itself in many ways, including domestic violence in later life, or systemic neglect by a long-term care provider. Affecting about five million Americans each year, mostly women, elder abuse carries a host of adverse health impacts, including an increased likelihood of heart attacks, dementia, depression, chronic disease, and psychological distress. Given these health consequences, it is critical that domestic violence advocates and health professionals are aware of the dynamics of abuse in later life.

To promote services and support for survivors of all ages, the National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence (NCHDV) will feature a pre-conference institute on elder abuse, “Our Futures Without Violence.”  Together with nationally-renowned elder abuse experts, Dr. Laura Mosqueda, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, and Marie-Therese Connolly, MacArthur Fellow, we will host an interactive discussion about elder abuse, public health, prevention, and balancing autonomy and safety. We will explore cases and controversies, research and policy initiatives (and deficits), and practical ways to help older people who are at risk or victimized. Drawing on our years of advocacy in the fields of domestic and sexual violence, we will provide concrete suggestions for how victim service providers can better accommodate the needs of older survivors.

Violence can—and does—impact people in every stage of life. For some older survivors, that violence is unique to aging, such as abuse in a long-term care facility; for others, particularly women, the abuse is nothing new—the lifetime spiral of gender violence continues into old age. Across all forms of violence against older adults, however, the dynamics of power and control are present, operating at the expense of victims’ dignity, health and wellbeing.  Victim advocates, health professionals, and other service providers have an important, lifesaving role to play in supporting older adults who experience abuse. We hope you will join us at the NCHDV pre-conference institute.

Bonnie Brandl is the Director of the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life, where she acts as a liaison for national elder abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and aging networks and oversees and provides national technical assistance, training, program development, and support regarding abuse in later life.

Firoza Chic Dabby is Co-Director of the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Gender-Based Violence, a national resource center engaged in advocacy, research, policy, training, technical assistance provision, and analyzing critical issues on violence against Asian and Pacific Islander women. Chic has been in the domestic violence field for thirty years and serves on the advisory board for the National Center on Elder Abuse.

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