Background: elder abuse greatly impacts the quality of life of older individuals. Prevalence rates range from 3 to 30% depending on the definition used. Only about a dozen studies have explored how older victims themselves experience and explain abuse. It is essential that healthcare professionals understand the perceptions of older victims as they are among the most important groups to handle and report abuse.
Design: a qualitative study on the perceptions and experiences of victims of elder abuse was conducted using in-depth semi-structured interviews.
Setting: abused individuals living independently, in residential care facilities and nursing homes.
Subjects: six males and 11 females aged 63–90 years.
Results: the main causes of abuse identified by older victims themselves were mutual dependency between victim and perpetrator, power and control imbalances, loneliness and a marginalised social position of older persons. Effects of abuse included negative feelings, physical and psychological distress, a change of personal norms and values, changed perspectives on money and low self-efficacy. These differential effects depended upon the types of abuse experienced and the relationship with the perpetrator. Coping strategies mentioned by victims were seeking informal or professional help and using self-help strategies.
Conclusion: older victims perceive abuse differently depending on the expected acceptability of the type(s) of abuse experienced and the anticipated stigma associated with the perpetrator involved. The effects and chosen coping strategies are influenced by these considerations and therewith also influence their help-seeking behaviour. Healthcare professionals are encouraged to use these findings in practice to prevent, detect and intervene in elder abuse.