But it can be sadly widespread, and the elderly are among the frequent victims.

Who is the typical abuser?

Research shows that contrary to physical abuse, where the perpetrator is most frequently a partner of the victim, psychological abuse usually comes from children or grandchildren. What does the typical abuser look like? They’re between 20 and 30 years old, live with the victim as the only member of their family, and are long-term unemployed. However, the abuser can also be a partner (usually problematic already before the victim reached an older age), sometimes even a social worker.

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What factors play a role in the psychological abuse of seniors?

1. Health aspect

Seniors’ health is rarely perfect and usually gets worse with increasing age. They may become dependent on others’ help in many ways and sometimes cannot organize and secure this help by themselves. The dependence can thus be not only on those who provide the help directly but also on those who organize it for them. This dependence can be used as a tool for leverage, or emotional blackmail, by the abusers.

2. Economic aspect

The elderly may have trouble paying for their housing alone. They may also need daily living aids or medical treatment outside their financial means. Sometimes they depend on their family for financial support, which puts them in a very disadvantageous position from the point of view of relationships and psychological needs.

3. Social aspect

People generally lose social support networks and anchors with increasing age. Seniors can become lonelier or feel abandoned. In case of problems in the family, they often don’t have anyone to ask for help or confide in. It becomes more difficult to form new relationships, and friends of the same age may not be able to help the victim in many cases.

4. Cognitive aspect

Cognitive and other abilities of some seniors can decline as a consequence of aging or a specific illness to the extent that they don’t enable the victim to see what kind of behavior toward them is normal and what isn’t. They can become suspicious and reserved “just in case”, or on the other hand seem naive and too blindly trusting. Even more disturbingly, life-disrupting events such as surviving a natural disaster can speed up cognitive decline, and we could speculate on whether psychological abuse might also contribute to that.

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Hidden beneath relationships

It’s vital to realize that the victim of psychological abuse or neglect from their closest ones, typically children, still remains their - often deeply loving - parent. They can experience severe feelings of guilt that they didn’t raise the abuser better, or feel that they somehow “deserve” the treatment. It’s also not uncommon that they’re afraid what would happen if the people closest to them, even if abusers, were prosecuted. All of these factors can make the discovery of abuse very difficult.

Note: This is an abbreviated translation of the author’s Czech article in the magazine Sociální služby (“Social Service”, www.socialnisluzby.eu).

About the Author

Petra Starkova, M.A.

Petra Starkova is a therapist and author who writes for children and adults.

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