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Older adults are more vulnerable to violence and experience the impacts of victimization more profoundly than other age groups. Elder abuse dominates much of the existing literature on the topic of violence and older adults, though tends to focus on violence perpetrated by family caregivers and paid care workers. More recently, there has been growing attention to another type of violence involving older adults – violence towards paid service workers by older adults (often with cognitive impairment). Both forms of violence are likely to increase in our shifting demographic and economic context. Normally, however, these forms of violence, though both involving older adults, are studied as isolated phenomena. Moreover, existing research indicates little about how these various forms of violence and victimization are interpreted by those involved. In this research project we applied a uniquely broad focus to examine interpretations of, and emotional dynamics involved in, violence and victimization across a range of settings and relationships between and with older adults.

With funding from SSHRC, we examined subjective interpretations of violent interactions across home and institutional settings, and in differing relationships, including spousal relationships, resident relationships, and those between service workers and older adult clients and their families. This includes situations of more traditionally conceptualized elder abuse as well as workplace violence (in both paid and unpaid work). The central research question was: how do older adults, their family members and paid service workers interpret interpersonal violence and victimization? For instance, how and when do they identify certain behaviours or situations as violent; how and when do they interpret the people involved as victims or perpetrators? With additional funding from Mitacs, we extended our study to examine representations of this issue in mainstream Canadian news media.