Domestic Violence Knows No Age Limit

“Elizabeth” is an 89- year old woman who currently resides in a nursing home. She was a victim of unreported domestic violence for several decades. Domestic violence in later life is often unreported. In fact, only 1 in 14 older adult victims report their abuse to authorities.[1] Elders may not report because they feel powerless or ashamed, distrust of authorities, or place a high value on their marriage vows due to cultural or religious reasons.

Elizabeth experienced multiple forms of abuse throughout the years including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. She was in deep fear of her husband, but she wanted to protect her children. Domestic violence for elders may appear in various forms other than acts of physical violence, and the abuse can be exacerbated by age, poor health, and other age-related needs. Abusers may limit access to medical care, give too much medicine, or take away assistive devices.[2] For example, Elizabeth described a moment where she required medical attention due to an accidental fall. Tragically, her husband left her on the floor for several hours, which aggravated her condition. He also failed to call 911 in a timely manner due to his cognitive issues and inability to understand the seriousness of the matter. Moreover, he created problems for Elizabeth at hospitals and other treatment facilities because he would discharge her from highly essential medical care. He was unwilling to pay for her treatment and wanted to bring her back home where he had control over her.

Elizabeth only found freedom to share her story and freedom to live when she entered the nursing home two years ago. She ultimately determined that she wanted to live the last days of her life, without abuse or neglect. With our assistance, Elizabeth was able to build a case and obtain an abuse prevention order. She was able to go to court and get it renewed each year. But her husband’s anger grew due to the separation and the story did not stop there.

Elizabeth recently contacted our office again to get the abuse prevention order renewed. Due to the circumstances and long history of violence, we feared that if Elizabeth’s husband was granted access to visit her at the nursing home, despite the fact that he is 90, he would try to harm her or bring her back home. Unfortunately, abusers that lose control over their victims can become enraged and there have been instances where the domestic violence has escalated. For example, the abuser would commit an act of murder- suicide seeking to possessively control his partner, and in most cases, to prevent her from leaving him. Feelings such as “rejection”, “rage” or having been “provoked” are sometimes the root cause of further violence, for victims still living with their partners or who have taken action against them.[3]

At a court hearing for a permanent abuse prevention order, her husband did show up and expressed anger about being kept away from his wife and about the cost of the nursing home care. However, we assisted Elizabeth in getting MassHealth to pay for her care so her husband did not bear the burden of paying her medical expenses. While he refused to admit that his actions were life- threatening to Elizabeth’s well-being, he admitted refusing to listen to the advice of several medical professionals and cooperate to provide her adequate care. We submitted an affidavit that gave a detailed description of Elizabeth’s continued fear of her husband and the immediate threat of harm he would cause if he tried to take her back home. In addition, her husband was unable to control his temper in the courtroom.

Ultimately, the Judge allowed the abuse prevention to be continued another year. Although we were denied the permanent abuse prevention order, we were able to allow Elizabeth to live safely and with peace of mind for the next year and are prepared to return to court next year to continue to ensure her safety and dignity.

[1] https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/

[2] http://www.pcadv.org/Learn-More/Domestic-Violence-Topics/Elder-Abuse/

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-adams/domestic-murder-and-murder-suicide_b_6592950.html

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