How to cope when the 'golden years' aren’t so golden

Many look forward to the “golden years,” the time when they can retire and take life a bit slower if they choose to. It is a time that people often speak of with either anticipated enjoyment or fond affection.

But imagine being 70, married 45 years and enduring abuse many of those years. You don’t have children and the rest of your family doesn’t live nearby or they have passed away. Your friends don’t know what happens when the bridge party is over, the door closes and they leave the porch. No one knows the insults, mind games and cruel “punishments” you endure, nor do they know about the threats made and carried out, which serve to keep you silent and stuck. No one would imagine that this upstanding person who they know hits you and sexually assaults you on a regular basis.

Sometimes the golden years aren’t so golden.

For some of those older than 60, their later life is unfortunately filled with abuse. Research estimates that approximately 1 in 10 older adults living in their homes experiences elder abuse each year, and it is agreed that this form of abuse is grossly underreported, so the data we have likely doesn’t reflect the truest picture.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence defines domestic abuse in later life as a segment of elder abuse which focuses on individuals in an ongoing relationship, for example, a spouse, partner, family member or caregiver. It can include physical, emotional, psychological, verbal, sexual and financial abuse. It can also involve neglect.

Abuse in later life can happen in every community, no matter one’s socioeconomic or educational status, culture, ethnicity, race, faith or sexual orientation. It is most often perpetrated against women, but just as in younger age groups, men are abused as well.

Domestic or intimate partner abuse most often involves an abuser employing a pattern of power and control behaviors to coerce or manipulate the other person to do what the abuser wants. In addition to the forms of abuse listed above, it can manifest as threats, minimizing, blaming, using the children and exercising dominate privilege.

To add to the complexity of the issue, often more than one of these forms of abuse happens at a time.

Victims of elder abuse may exhibit signs that abuse is taking place, but the signs can often be overlooked or assumed to simply be indicative of aging. While a full list of the potential signs of abuse would be too long, some things to look for are:

» Unexplained body bruises, broken bones, or bleeding of the breasts or genitalia

» Being withdrawn or frightened

» Unexplained changes in behavior

» Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities, sudden change in alertness or unusual depression

» Sudden changes in financial situation or unexplained bank withdrawals

If you see these things, and it is safe to do so, try to have a one-on-one conversation with the individual to see if they feel comfortable describing what may be happening to them. If they share with you that they are experiencing abuse, numerous steps could be considered based on your relationship with the person, their wishes, their health, the severity of the issues, the safety issues that may be present and their support systems in place.

If there is imminent danger, call 911; but, if that is not the case, one of those next steps could be to call Avalon Center for assistance.

For 40 years, Avalon Center has provided services for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and stalking. Our shelter and outreach services, which are available to all, include a 24-hour helpline — 757-258-5051— emergency shelter, transitional housing, case management, individual and group counseling, legal advocacy, supervised visitation, custody exchange, support services for family and friends of survivors, school presentations and community awareness presentations and training.

Also, in response to the recent tragic domestic homicide, Avalon is available to help those who have questions or want to know more about elder abuse. Avalon’s trauma-informed services are confidential and are empowerment based: We are not going to tell an individual what to do, but will give them information so that they can make the choice that is best for them.

As our elder population grows with the maturation of many baby boomers, knowing how to recognize elder abuse and access services becomes even more important. In June, which is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and indeed all year long, we should become more informed about the issue, so we can help seniors to be safe and break the cycle of abuse. That way, perhaps their “golden years” won’t be black and blue, but actually golden.

Juanita Graham

Avalon Director of Outreach Services

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