Photo Courtesy of: Gytha69

Photo Courtesy of: Gytha69

This blog was originally published in November of 2014.  We are sharing it once again this holiday season in the hopes of reaching individuals who did not see it last year.

The holidays are a time of family gatherings and traditions. During the holidays, the past can be idealized, which can cause this time of year to be especially difficult for victims of elder abuse and those concerned about them. Family members who have been distant might reconnect with their older adult relatives and spot signs of abuse. Or they might intensely feel the absence of an older relative who had been victimized, but had to move away for safety. And they may feel the loss of a family member who, because of abusive behavior, is no longer welcome at the family’s holiday gathering.

This blog provides useful tips for professionals supporting older victims and families during the holiday season. The information is gathered from a varied and interesting range of sources: the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, PBS’s This Emotional Life Program, the Office for Victims of Crime, and from our partners at The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention.

These organizations encourage victims and families to:

  • Plan ahead and consider changing traditions: Older adults and their families can engage in proactive conversations about desires for how the holidays should be spent. Planning ahead can help foster a feeling of being in control as well as preventing and/or minimizing additional anxiety and/or grief. This is important for elder abuse victims, as victimization can often create a feeling of powerlessness and loss of control. Discussions might focus on ways to meaningfully change routines and traditions, which can help those who are grieving the loss of their previous circumstances and relationships.1 2
  • Connect with others: Older adults should attend holiday events with an exit strategy in mind so that if and when a situation becomes overwhelming, there is a way to leave. Social isolation is a risk factor for and consequence of elder abuse. It is therefore critical for older adults to be integrated into social networks and feel a sense of belonging. The holidays present opportunities for victims to connect with friends and families who love and support them. If victims can’t be with family, because of distance or for their safety, encourage them to use technology such as Skype or a simple phone call to connect. 3 4 5
  • Express gratitude for victims and older adults: The holidays present an opportunity for families to openly express gratitude for the older adults in their lives. This is particularly important in order to combat undermining ageist messages that many of us have internalized, including older adults. This is especially important for elder victims, as often abusers relentlessly put the victims down. Acknowledging that older adults in the family are valued can help older victims regain a sense of self-worth, and feel more connected to the family and less socially isolated. 6
  • Honor loved ones who are not present: Elder abuse victims and families may struggle with the holidays because they are grieving the loss of a loved one, either because of a death or because of separation as a result of victimization. Families can honor loved ones who aren’t present by lighting a candle, reserving a seat at the table, or by acknowledging them through other cultural traditions. 7 8 9
  • Help others: Focusing on helping others may help older victims regain a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and self-worth that abusers erode. In many communities, the holidays bring a number of opportunities to volunteer or reach out and connect with others who are in need. Helping older adults contribute in any way they can and organizing activities for them to give back may be especially meaningful during this time of year.10
  • Make a safety plan & reach out for help: Make sure that older adults have a safety plan in place and they know what to do if and when they see abusers and/or an unsafe situation develops during family gatherings or other holiday events. For example, for an elder abuse victim considering attendance at a holiday event that could be potentially dangerous, it is important to carefully review the pros/cons of this decision. If the choice is to attend, then discuss safety plans in advance of the event. For example, the older adult should attend with an exit strategy in mind so that if necessary, there is a way to leave. And, if available, provide elder abuse victims and families with names and phone numbers of mental health professionals, services, and hotline numbers available over the holidays if they need more support.11 12 13 Family caregivers may also need additional support during the holidays. Resources like The Family Caregiver Alliance, can connect families with respite care, support groups, and education.

While these tips are important for the victims and families we serve, it is also important for professionals working with elder abuse victims to practice self care, particularly during this time of year, when both personal and professional lives become increasingly hectic. Visit these resources for more on compassion fatigue and for a self-care starter kit.

We hope these tips help make this holiday season more joyful and peaceful for elder abuse victims and those concerned about them.

By Elizabeth Bloemen, MPH, NYCEAC Social Media Associate (2014), Cara Kenien, LMSW, MPA, NYCEAC Social Media Manager (2014) and contributing author Glendalee Olivera, MSW, Elder Abuse Specialist The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention.

  1. Office for Victims of Crime. Coping with the Holidays. Accessed November 23, 2014. http://ojp.gov/ovc/publications/holidaytips/suggestions.html []
  2. Wortman, Camille. (2011). Getting Through the Holidays: Advice from the Bereaved. PBS: This Emotional Life Accessed November 23, 1014 http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/getting-through-holidays-advice-bereaved []
  3. Office for Victims of Crime. Coping with the Holidays. Accessed November 23, 2014. http://ojp.gov/ovc/publications/holidaytips/suggestions.html []
  4. Wortman, Camille. (2011). Getting Through the Holidays: Advice from the Bereaved. PBS: This Emotional Life Accessed November 23, 1014 http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/getting-through-holidays-advice-bereaved []
  5. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention []
  6. Office for Victims of Crime. Coping with the Holidays. Accessed November 23, 2014. http://ojp.gov/ovc/publications/holidaytips/suggestions.html []
  7. Office for Victims of Crime. Coping with the Holidays. Accessed November 23, 2014. http://ojp.gov/ovc/publications/holidaytips/suggestions.html []
  8. Wortman, Camille. (2011). Getting Through the Holidays: Advice from the Bereaved. PBS: This Emotional Life Accessed November 23, 1014 http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/getting-through-holidays-advice-bereaved []
  9. National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. (2013) Ten Tips to Help Someone Grieving During the Holidays. Accessed November 23, 2014 http://www.nhpco.org/press-room/press-releases/ten-tips-help-someone-grieving-during-holidays []
  10. Office for Victims of Crime. Coping with the Holidays. Accessed November 23, 2014. http://ojp.gov/ovc/publications/holidaytips/suggestions.html []
  11. Office for Victims of Crime. Coping with the Holidays. Accessed November 23, 2014. http://ojp.gov/ovc/publications/holidaytips/suggestions.html []
  12. Wortman, Camille. (2011). Getting Through the Holidays: Advice from the Bereaved. PBS: This Emotional Life Accessed November 23, 1014 http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/getting-through-holidays-advice-bereaved []
  13. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention []

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