Older women who have experienced abusive relationships are to be given a voice as part of an academic project that will provide healthcare professionals with guidance on this issue.
Up to 40 women aged over 65 who have lived through domestic abuse will be interviewed about their experiences by researchers from the University of Nottingham's School of Nursing.
Their unique insight into this complex and largely hidden phenomenon will be used to produce an online learning resource for healthcare professionals on how effectively to identify and support older patients who they suspect may be suffering abuse at the hands of their partner or have experienced abuse in the past.
The one-year project has been funded with a £31,498 grant from The Burdett Trust for Nurses, an independent charitable trust that aims to support and promote the nursing contribution to healthcare.
The study is being led by Dr Julie McGarry and coresearcher Christine Simpson in the School of Nursing. Dr McGarry said: "Older women who experience domestic abuse are historically a silent section of our society and this research aims to give them a voice.
"There has been very little research on the subject before now because most domestic violence surveys tend to exclude women over the age of 59, further compounding the view that domestic violence only affects younger women and effectively excluding or ignoring the experiences of older women.
"The subject tends to be wrongly classed as elder abuse, when the issues involving the power relationships and the victim's individual needs are completely different."
Healthcare professionals, especially those such as district nurses who visit patients in their own homes, are sometimes best placed to spot cases of domestic abuse among their older patients but in the past have lacked the awareness or training to handle the situation.
Dr McGarry added: "This represents an important issue in healthcare, yet nurses and other professionals may be il-equipped to meet the needs of older patients who have experienced domestic abuse. It is vital that agencies and practitioners develop guidance and strategies for dealing with this."
The circumstances and experiences of older women who have been abused — either physically, emotionally, sexually or financially — by their partners tend to be markedly different to those in a younger age group.
Some may remain in abusive partnerships because they have a lack of practical knowledge of how and where to get help or there may be physical barriers to escaping their situation such as a lack of transportation, financial independence or women's refuges catering for those with disability and mobility issues.
Cultural and social factors also come into play — women from older generations may believe that what happens behind closed doors within the family home is a private matter and choose to suffer in silence rather than speak out.
Anonymised experiences will be used to put together an online resource, available free of charge through the School of Nursing's website, which will offer guidance to healthcare workers on how to identify older patients who may be victims of domestic abuse and support them in a way that is sensitive to their needs.
Do nurses need more training to spot cases of domestic abuse among older paients? Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"Yes. Nurses need the trining and the public need to be sensitised as well. I do wish these interviews would be done beyond Europe. I know a woman living in an abusive marriage for more than 40 years and she is still in the same or worse situation." - Gladys N, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
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