“I have had major bone problems and an operation on my spine, and I am now questioning whether that was to do with the beatings?”…the words of a 63 year old woman who took part in new research just published, into the effects of domestic violence on older women.
The year-long study by researchers at The University of Nottingham’s Division of Nursing has concluded that more needs to be done to identify, support and protect these victims.
Older women who suffer or have suffered domestic abuse are historically a silent section of society and this research set out to give them a voice and break the taboo surrounding the problem.
The project was prompted by a previous scarcity of information on the experiences of older victims because most domestic violence surveys tend to focus on younger women. Researchers carried out in depth interviews with a sample of 16 women in the East Midlands area for the study which has just been published in the journal Nursing Older People.
The women who took part in the survey were aged between 59 and 84. They had all experienced abusive behaviour from husbands or partners, some very recently, which had had adverse effects on their mental health and physical wellbeing well into later life.
In the study the long term consequences of physical abuse in older age was identified as a particular issue for several women who took part. One 76 year old told researchers: “I got severely bashed on my ear and I’m told that I can’t hear at all in this ear...it’s a perforated eardrum. I’m waiting for a hearing aid.”
Another woman, aged 63, said:” I’ve got arthritis and I had lots of broken bones when he was doing this... I’m sure this possibly did impact on me now, like now I can hardly walk and I have to go in a wheelchair to go about.”
Others had suffered long term psychological effects both at the time of the abuse and in later life. One former victim of abuse reported: “I’ve been in and out of the hospital having violent attacks of ‘acute anxiety’ they said... because I didn’t have the tools to manage what he was doing to me.” Many older women in the study also reported enduring feelings of low self-esteem: “You just feel that you are totally and utterly stripped of any identity so it is like building another self when you finally get away.”
A generational reluctance to seek help because of embarrassment and perceived shame was also identified by the survey. Another woman in her 60s said: “There was nothing for you... and my parents would say ‘you make your bed then lay there’ really so I got no support... so I think that is the problem and which made me accept the abuse in a funny kind of way.”
Leading the research, Dr Julie McGarry, said: “This was a small scale study however the findings highlight the significant effect of domestic abuse on the immediate and long term physical and mental health of older women. Older women who have experienced abuse have identified particular health and support needs and the services that are currently available may not be appropriate to address these. Raising awareness among nurses and the wider health community is an essential part of addressing this gap.”
The research has concluded that the current services provided by the healthcare industry are not sufficiently tailored to meet the needs of older women. It has also highlighted a general tendency for health care professionals to overlook domestic violence as a potential issue for older women. It says that healthcare professionals such as district nurses are well-placed to spot cases of abuse among their older patients but in the past have lacked the awareness or training to handle the suspicion. The report recommends that the industry should develop more effective strategies to recognise victims and to more actively help them access support services.
The project leaders intend to use this new and unique insight into the complex and largely taboo phenomenon to create a learning resource for healthcare professionals. This is currently under development in collaboration with agencies in the health and social care sector.
The researchers worked on the project with help from Age Concern and Women’s Aid. It was funded by The Burdett Trust for Nurses, an independent charity which supports nursing’s contribution to healthcare.
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.