A conceptual model of the risk of elder abuse posed by incontinence and care dependence

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Aims and objectives

To describe and critically analyse the thinking that led to the concept of an association between incontinence, care dependence and elder abuse.


Coercive or abusive continence care practices include chastising a person for their incontinence and overriding their attempts to resist continence care. Neglect in continence care is characterised by withholding or delaying responding to requests for help to maintain continence or to manage incontinence, and restricting a person's access to toileting assistance, incontinence aids or hygiene care.


Contemporary biomedical understandings about incontinence and influencing concepts from the fields of sociology, psychology and nursing were analysed to inform the design of a conceptual model that elucidates possible associations between incontinence, care dependence and elder abuse.


Ideas generated from an analysis of the concepts led to the development of a model termed the “Model of Attributes to Abuse of Dependent Elders in Continence Care” (MADE-CC). The MADE-CC theorises factors that cause and contribute to abuse in continence care. Carer factors include physical and emotional exhaustion, frustration related to the inability to control or predict incontinence, resentment associated with constraints imposed by care dependence, disgust associated with physical contact with urine/faeces, limited knowledge and skills about incontinence and ethical conflicts concerning care. Care recipient factors include frequent and severe incontinence, cognitive impairment and a history of physical or psychological trauma. Social factors that are theorised include the stigmatised nature of incontinence, social taboos and cultural norms and the private nature of continence care.


The MADE-CC illuminates the potential risk of elder abuse posed by incontinence and care dependence. It should be used to improve ethical care of older people and stimulate debate about everyday ethics in the care of older people who are care dependent and to optimise their participation in decisions about their health and well-being.

Implications for practice

Nurses and carers should be aware of the multiple interrelated factors that contribute to the risk of elder abuse in the caregiving encounter, including the role of emotions.

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