Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults: Understanding Gender Differences

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Elder Abuse Prevention Series
Last Updated: 
August 2016
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Abuse and neglect in later life can affect a person’s health, happiness and safety. Older adults can experience different kinds of harm from people they rely on or trust.

Abuse of older adults can occur at home, in the community, or in institutional settings. It can take many forms including physical, emotional, financial, sexual, social, spiritual, or withholding medications or the necessities of life.

Both men and women can be abusive or neglectful. Older women are more likely to be victims of family violence than older men, in part because they usually live longer. That abuse or neglect more often comes from the older woman’s spouse, partner or adult children. For an older man, the abuse or neglect is most likely from his adult children or close friends.

Although older adults may experience harm from strangers, this is much less common with the exception of financial abuse or fraud.

When might the abuse begin?

Women are more likely than men to experience abuse in their younger years, which may continue into later life. The effects of many years of abuse can be hard on a person’s health.

For older men, their first experience with abuse or neglect may occur in later life. It may begin after the man has developed a disabling condition and relies on others for help.

How is abuse experienced differently between men and women?

Abuse hurts both older women and older men. However, they may face different risks and be affected in different ways.

  • Older women are more likely than older men to have experienced a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
  • Older women may have fewer financial resources than older men, and may find it hard to leave an abusive relationship. In addition, women tend to live longer than men. If a woman loses income or assets through financial abuse, it will affect her significantly and for a long period of time.
  • On average, a woman tends to be smaller than a man, and she may have less ability to defend herself from physical abuse.
  • Older women are more likely than older men to be widowed or live alone.
  • Older women are much more likely than older men to live in a residential care facility where abuse may occur from staff, volunteers, or family.
  • Older men are less likely to have network to provide support and protection.
  • Older men may depend on their spouse or partner to do the cooking and cleaning, and may therefore find it hard to leave an abusive relationship.
  • Older men are likely to have a regular income, such as a pension, and therefore be at greater risk of fraud.
  • In some relationships, the man may be much older than the woman, and therefore more vulnerable.

What are the similarities in abuse experienced by men and women?

Abuse and neglect affect older adults emotionally and physically. Both older women and older men may feel shocked, embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed that someone they trust is hurting or taking advantage of them.

Both men and women may be concerned about how it reflects on their roles within the family and community, and their ability to be independent.

What is the most commonly reported type of abuse?

Financial abuse is the most commonly reported form of abuse faced by older adults. Older adults are vulnerable to this type of abuse because they may depend on others to help them with financial matters. In addition, some older adults may lack experience with financies or online/ATM banking.

Why don’t older adults get help if they are being abused or neglected?

Often older adults may not know of local resources available to them. Some older adults may feel that they must help and protect their spouse or children, even if they are abusive. The older adult may not think about the consequences or effects on themselves.

In spousal abuse, family members may discourage the parent from taking action. They may protect the other parent or may not want to take sides.

Some older women and men depend on others for assistance with daily living, and they may experience abuse from the provider. This can have a major impact on the older adult’s decision on whether they can leave the situation and how to seek help.

An older adult’s community, culture and perspective on life can also affect their response to the abuse. In many cultures, people expect families to keep problems private or hidden. Older immigrants may face language barriers to seeking help. They may also have no pension or other resources of their own, and they may have little family support.

If you are trying to help an older person who experiences abuse or neglect, it is important to understand the situation and how the person feels. Be aware of any stereotypes or assumptions you may have about older adults, families, or diverse cultures. Try to understand the circumstances that can contribute to older adults not seeking the help they need.

What should I do if I see a crime of harmful situation?

If you see a crime or harmful situation occurring to an older adult, call the police or 9-1-1 right away.

Advise that you want to report a situation of suspected elder abuse, neglect or self-neglect.

For More Information

For more information about elder abuse and neglect, or to get help, call or visit the following services:

For more information on abuse and older adults, see the following HealthLinkBC Files:

BC Centre For Elder Advocacy and Support Logo

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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