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When Older People Are Violent or Abusive Toward Their Family Caregiver: A Review of Mixed-Methods Research

What happens when family caregivers experience violence and abuse from the older person for whom they care? Although this issue has received little global attention, it is relevant to researchers, practitioners, and policy makers working across the intersecting fields of older age care and medicine, adult protection and safeguarding, and domestic and intimate partner violence. To date, these fields have generated diverse explanations of violence and abuse in older age illness and how best to respond to it. This article reports the findings of a systematic literature review of 18 quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods studies that investigated violent and abusive behavior by older people toward their family caregivers. The review identified three central themes in the literature: (1) There are inconsistent definitions and measurements used in research about harmful, violent, and abusive behavior toward family caregivers. (2) Violent and abusive behavior toward caregivers is a sensitive and hidden topic that poses practical and methodological challenges for researchers. (3) There is some evidence to suggest that people who were violent and abusive in their earlier life—or who had a poor relationship with their family member in the past—are more likely to continue to experience violence and abusive behavior in later life. There were two central ways in which violence and abuse were conceptualized and investigated: as a “symptom of illness” or as an “act of abuse” and we present a visual map of the relationship between these two conceptualizations drawn from our analysis of the literature. We conclude by discussing the implications of the findings and recommend future directions for practice, research, and policy to support affected families.

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Trauma, Violence, & Abuse