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The dark side of family communication: a communication model of elder abuse and neglect

  • Mei-Chen Lin (a1) and Howard Giles (a2)

To further address the potential factors that lead up to elder abuse in domestic settings, this paper proposes a model from a communication approach to explain dyadic influences between the family caregiver and the elderly care receiver that give rise to the abuse. That is, dysfunctional communication between the caregivers and care receivers may, therefore, increase the likelihood of elder abuse. Grounded in Bugental and her colleagues’ work (1993, 1999, 2002) on child abuse, we propose a power-oriented communication model based, in part, on research in the fields of family violence and intergenerational communication to explain the likelihood of occurrence of elder abuse in family caregiving situations. We argue that certain risk factors pertaining to caregivers’ characteristics – those who perceive high stress in caregiving, have mental health issues, have a history of substance abuse, and/or display verbal aggressiveness – may be more likely to attribute considerable power to those elderly under their custodianship. At the same time, such caregivers tend to feel powerless and experience loss of control when interacting with their elderly counterparts. When an elderly care receiver displays noncompliant behaviors, caregivers may be prone to employ abusive behaviors (in our model, it refers to physical abuse, verbal abuse, or communication neglect) to seek such compliance. Consequences of such abuse may result in lower self-esteem or lower confidence in one's ability to manage his/her life. It is suggested that researchers and practitioners investigate both parties’ interactions closely and the role of elderly care receivers in order to detect, intervene, and prevent elder abuse.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: Mei-Chen Lin, PhD, School of Communication Studies, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44224-0001, USA. Phone: +1-330-672-0281; Fax: +1-330-672-3510. Email:
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International Psychogeriatrics
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