Older people and domestic abuse

Recognise the signs of an unhealthy relationship and what you can do to get help

Older people are particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse, often unaware that help is available. Fear and long-term health conditions can be major barriers to seeking and getting help.



Remember, abuse is never acceptable and you do not have to put up with it. There is help available to keep you safe and decide what action to take.

Sometimes spotting and challenging abuse in the elderly can be difficult and domestic abuse can be masked with professionals only seeing presenting issues as instead being an age-related condition. For example, bruising linked to medication or an ailment, when instead it’s physical abuse, or depression and confusion, instead actually being a sign of psychological or emotional abuse or coercive control

As per the Safe Later Lives: Older people and domestic abuse report by Safe Lives, victims aged 61 and over are much more likely to experience abuse from an adult family member or current intimate partner than those 60 and under.

On average, older victims experience abuse for twice as long before seeking help as those aged under 61 and nearly half have a disability. Older victims are less likely to attempt to leave their perpetrator in the year before accessing help and more likely to be living with the perpetrator after getting support.

The report also claims that older people are statistically more likely to suffer from health problems, reduced mobility or other disabilities, which can exacerbate their vulnerability to harm. Another common barrier is generational attitudes about abuse that leads to older victims being far less likely to identify their situation as abuse.

Find out how we can help you and how you can get in touch.

Myths and misconceptions about domestic abuse

Domestic and sexual abuse happens less among older people

Like younger people, older people may be subjected to domestic abuse that is physical, sexual, emotional, or economic. Perpetrators will use a range of behaviours to exert power and control. But there are also some important age-related differences that specifically affect victim-survivors as they age. You can find out more on the Age UK website

Recognising that something is not right in the relationship with a relative or partner, and it maybe domestic abuse is an important step. The best way to get specialist support and advice. Domestic abuse is never acceptable. You do not have to put up with it, and there is help available for you to live free from abuse and fear.

When someone has dementia, you cannot trust what they say about abuse

People with dementia may be subject to mistreatment and abuse in the community or in care homes and hospitals. This may include psychological, financial, emotional, sexual or physical abuse, including the inappropriate prescription of anti-psychotics. In most cases of repeated abuse, the abuser is well-known to the older person.

Read more on the Alzheimer’s Society website

Bruises happen all the time because of age-related conditions, there’s no need to ask more questions

Are older people more at high risk of coercive control?

Reality: As people grow older their personal circumstances often mean that they become more dependent on a single person or their immediate family to meet changing care and support needs. This can result in a situation in which an abuser becomes the main influence in their life. An abuser may be in a stronger position to restrict relationships that would give a survivor valuable interaction (supportive family members, friends, the wider community).

Domestic abuse only occurs in impoverished, inner-city areas

Reality: From an urban or rural area, rich or poor, anyone can experience domestic abuse, it does not matter where you live or how much income you have. It happens in all types of relationships, regardless of employment status and what type of house you live in.

Domestic abuse always involves physical or sexual violence

Reality: Domestic abuse is often thought of as the beating up of a partner or sexual assault but sometimes there is no physical assault.

Other abusive behaviours include:

  • Coercive control
  • Psychological abuse
  • Financial or economic control
  • Emotional abuse
  • Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Online or digital abuse

Short free online awareness courses are available to help you understand more about domestic abuse.

Only women experience domestic abuse

Reality: Men can also experience domestic abuse from their female partners. People can be subjected to abuse regardless of how they identify their sexuality. Abuse can happen in same sex relationships. However, it is not just between partners, it can be between other types of family relationships.

Domestic abuse is a rare occurrence

Reality: Often domestic abuse goes on behind closed doors and is underreported, however it is not an uncommon occurrence. One in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

Domestic abuse is often a one-off incident

Reality: An abusive relationship has an ongoing cycle of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members. It will often get worse over time.

People experiencing abuse often provoke assaults and therefore “ask for it”

Reality: Domestic abuse cannot be justified in any way. Nobody is responsible for making someone abusive towards them. Abuse that has been going on in a relationship for a long time, sometimes decades, often becomes normalised, even to the point of believing they deserve to be hurt. This can lead to someone rationalising and defending their abuser’s behaviour.

Domestic abuse is a private matter that others should not get involved in.

Reality: Domestic abuse is a crime and should not be ignored. Trying to tackle the situation on your own may be dangerous.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse phone 0800 69 49 999.

In an emergency you should always dial 999, if you are unable to speak because you are worried you will be overheard you can press 55 and the operator will know that you need assistance.

Directory of additional support services

Somerset Domestic Abuse Service is Somerset’s main specialist service which provides support to men, women and children who are affected by domestic abuse.

Find other local and national services that can provide you with extra support

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If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call the Police