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Women's Health

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Intimate partner abuse has no age limit

When 370 elderly women age 65 and older enrolled in a large West Coast health care delivery system were surveyed, more than a quarter reported being physically or psychologically abused by intimate partners during their adult life. Over 2 percent reported abuse within the past year, and 3.5 percent reported being abused within the previous 5 years, according to a new study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10909).

These findings highlight the fact that partner violence, which is typically thought to be a problem only in younger women, actually can happen to women at any age. Half the women were 65 to 74 years of age and half were age 75 and older. Intimate partners in the study included spouses, nonmarital partners, former marital partners, and formal nonmarital partners.

About 18 percent of the women said that they suffered sexual abuse or physical abuse, and 22 percent were victims of nonphysical abuse, including being threatened, called names, or having their behavior controlled by an intimate partner. The duration of abuse ranged from 3 years for forced sexual contact to 10 years of being put down, called names, or having their behavior controlled. About 60 percent of the victims of physical violence and 71 percent of the women who were subjected to psychological abuse and threats rated the abuse as severe. Only 3 percent of the women said that they had been asked by a health care provider about physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner since age 18. These findings suggest a need for increased efforts to address partner violence in older women.

See "Intimate partner violence in older women," by Amy E. Bonomi, Ph.D., M.P.H., Melissa L. Anderson, M.S., Robert J. Reid, M.D., Ph.D., and others in the March 2007 Gerontologist 47(1), pp. 34-41.

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