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Lifecourse Patterns of Abuse and Elder Mistreatment

October 2018 - May 2022

Elder mistreatment is a complex societal issue that has a profound impact on the health and well-being of victims. Although researchers have identified a number of individual and interpersonal risk factors associated elder mistreatment, findings are inconsistent across studies and little attention has been given to the pathways of abuse and violence over time and contexts that may provide insight into the evolution of elder mistreatment. While intergenerational violence commonly is noted in the child abuse and domestic violence literature, there currently is no empirical evidence to support or refute an intergenerational cycle of violence hypothesis as it relates to elder mistreatment. Further, relatively few longitudinal studies have focused on mechanisms underlying the transmission of abuse within families, or resilience, social support, and gender as moderating influences. Thus, scientific evidence to inform the development of prevention and intervention programs is very limited. In this application, we propose a novel and highly innovative program of research that focuses on the cycle of family violence, including ongoing relationship violence and elder mistreatment by adult children. Building on several decades of empirical research, we will investigate developmental relationships between an individual’s history of risk exposure and her or his current vulnerability to relationship violence and elder abuse perpetration. We will also test hypotheses about resilience and gender differences in hypothesized mediators (e.g., substance abuse, depression, relationship dependency) that link child maltreatment to adult behavior, addressing gaps in the literature. This project adds to an extensive longitudinal study that began in the 1970s with a goal of identifying the causes, correlates, and consequences of child maltreatment in families involved with child welfare. Participants, first assessed when they were 18 months to six years of age, are now in their 40s. At last assessment, in 2008-2010, when participants were in their 30s, the adults who were maltreated as children were at significantly higher risk for depression, anxiety, and impairment due to mental and physical health problems. These participants also were at significantly higher risk for substance abuse, which is well-established risk factor for violence and abuse. While not yet of an age when they would be characterized as victims of elder mistreatment, many participants will have endured ongoing violence over most of their lives and some will still encounter violence routinely in their adult relationships. In addition, many participants will have begun caring for aging parents, which places them at risk for perpetrating abuse in that context. With the average age of family caregivers being 49 years, and many adult children serving as care providers for their aging parents, this study is poised to begin tracking patterns of abuse into late life. With four prior waves of data that span more than 40 years and several developmental periods, this study provides an unprecedented opportunity to advance knowledge of causal pathways leading to elder mistreatment, a primary objective of the “Uncovering the Causes, Contexts, and Consequences of Elder Mistreatment” FOA.

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