Paper on Protective and Risk Factors for Survivors: Elder Abuse

Protective and Risk Factors for Survivors: Elder Abuse


Elder abuse is a form of mistreatment that leads to harm to elderly people. It may comprise neglect or mistreatment (financially, psychologically, sexually, or emotionally). Elder abuse is a grave social problem in modern times because of the increasingly individualistic nature of the society. Krug et al. (2002) observe that elder abuse leads to devastating effects for the elderly in terms of losses of security, dignity, and independence, health complications, and exploitation (loss of possessions such as homes, property, and life savings). This paper’s premise is that to address elder abuse cases effectively, criminal justice professionals require the cooperation and collective responsibility of community members.

Risk and Protective Factors

Several risk and protective factors are worth considering in the context of elder abuse. These factors relate to the extent of social isolation (how embedded both the individual and the trusted other are in the society), individual-level factors for the individual (such as gender, illnesses, especially dementia, physical health, personality, etc.), and individual-level factors for the trusted other, such as mental illness, substance abuse, hostility, and personality characteristics. Other aspects are the type of relationship between the victim and the trusted other and the exchange or power dynamics between them, in terms of extent of dependency or the level of stress involved in their relationship (Bonnie & Wallace, 2003). Research evidence demonstrates that shared living circumstances present a major risk factor for the mistreatment of elderly people, with those who live alone at the lowest risk. Due to increased opportunities for contact in shared residence arrangements, the risk of mistreatment of elderly people (especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s) is highest when they live with immediate family members other than the spouse, while living alone is an essential protective factor against mistreatment. Strong social networks, in terms of connections with neighbors, kin, and friends, are strong protective factors against abuse because of the high probability of informal and formal sanctions from these sources or authorities such as courts and the police (Bonnie & Wallace, 2003). Physical health problems and illnesses such as dementia are vital risk factors because of the dependence and extra need for care that these circumstances imply for the elderly.

From the perspective of the caregiver, substance abuse, behavioral problems, and mental illnesses are vital risk factors because of the possibility of impaired reasoning or more difficult relations with the elderly person. Elderly people are typically demanding, difficult to care for, and frail, which could promote stress among caregivers (Bonnie & Wallace, 2003). Owing to stress, the caregiver could abuse or neglect the elderly person. In institutional settings, psychological abuse is the most prevalent form of elder abuse, resulting from factors such as burnout (exhaustion or weariness), adverse attitudes towards the elderly, lack of adequate remuneration, and lack of motivation (Bonnie & Wallace, 2003). Conversely, positive factors such as high remuneration, motivation, and dedication to serving the elderly could be important protective factors against elder abuse in these environments.

Criminal justice professionals could assist victims of elderly abuse by maximizing protective factors such as strong social networks (Dong, 2014). By establishing and maintaining strong and positive ties with members of the community, including friends, relatives, and kin, these professionals could detect cases of abuse and use them to impose both formal and informal sanctions (such as filing cases in courts against abusers). They could also utilize the same networks to minimize risk factors such as shared residence with caregivers or family members who abuse alcohol, exploit their financial property wealth, etc. The secretive nature of elderly abuse and the fact that abusers are typically “trustworthy” people known to the victims are important challenges in these services (Alberta Government, 2010). To address these challenges effectively, criminal justice professionals require the cooperation and collective responsibility of community members to detect and report cases of elderly abuse.


The assessments above show that elder abuse is a significant problem owing to the increasingly individualistic nature of the modern society. The identification of cases of elder abuse is difficult because of the secretive nature of such abuse at the family level. Criminal justice professionals ought to cooperate closely with members of local communities to enable the identification and effective handling of all cases of elderly abuse.



Alberta Government (2010). Addressing Elder Abuse in Alberta: A Strategy for Collective Action. Alberta Government document. Retrieved from:

Bonnie, R., & Wallace, R. (2003). Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America. National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect. Retrieved from:

Dong, X. (2014). Elder Abuse: Research, Practice, and Health Policy: The 2012 GSA Maxwell Pollack Award Lecture. The Gerontologist 54(2): 153-162. Retrieved from:

Krug, E., Dahlberg, L., Mercy, J., Zwi, A., & Lozano, R. (2002). World Report on Violence and Health. World Health Organization Report. Retrieved from: