Long-term experiences of violent, abusive, or harmful behaviour


For a small number of carers, experiences of violent, abusive, or harmful behaviour may have begun much earlier in their lives, before they took on a caring role and/ or before their family member reached later life.  This can be the case for both people looking after their intimate partner and for adult children now looking after an older parent. For some people, the experience of illness and the role of cared-for and care-giver may make little difference to long-term patterns of abusive and/ or difficult behaviour between family members. For others, when a family member becomes ill or disabled, the balance of responsibility and dependency between them alters.  It is commonly the case that the person with health needs becomes more reliant on their family carer, and, in this way, less independent and autonomous.  Sometimes this cane make them more vulnerable to abusive or exploitative behaviour on the part of the carer.


However, for some families, the onset of illness brings about stress, distress, and difficulties making the transition to a new role or way of life.  This can compound patterns of already difficult and possibly abusive behaviour.  Some people may become more challenging or controlling as a way of coping with the unpredictability or disabling effects of their illness.  Other people may ‘take out’ their pain and frustration on those who are close to them and this is more likely if people have had long-term problems managing their feelings and maintaining healthy relationships with their partners or family members. The behaviour of the older person may or may not be intentional in nature.  However, it is important to recognise that carers in these situations may feel a strong sense of loyalty and responsibility towards their family member, both to stay with them and to care for them because they are now ill or disabled, regardless of the impact of their behaviour.  These carers may, unfortunately, actually be at most risk of serious or extreme behaviour because they have already ‘adapted’ or ‘tolerated’ difficult and harmful behaviour.  They may also experience the effects of the long-term, or cumulative, harmful behaviour.  It is likely patterns of long-term abusive, violent, or abusive behaviour affect a small number of families caring for older people. However, these may be some of the most difficult and serious situations and those most likely to remain hidden.


If you would like to find out more about wider issues relating to domestic and family abuse of older people (who may or may not be carers), you may find the information and resources on the Safe Lives site useful: http://www.safelives.org.uk/spotlight-1-older-people-and-domestic-abuse