Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Pyschology


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Edward Helmes


Research available on elder abuse is limited. There continues to be a lack of uniformity in how to define and identify the problem, as well as how to intervene. One group which continues to be excluded from the process of gaining knowledge on the issue of elder abuse is the elderly themselves. As general practitioners are the primary source of health care for older people, their perspectives on elder mistreatment should be explored as well. The first objective of this study was to examine whether differences existed in the perceived severity of potentially abusive situations between three groups of older people and general practitioners. The second objective was to determine if gender differences existed in perceptions of severity of abuse. The sample consisted of 48 general practitioners, 40 independent elderly, 38 elderly caregivers and 36 elderly care-receivers. The participants' perceptions of elder abuse were assessed using a modified version of a questionnaire developed by Moon and Williams (1993). The questionnaire described 10 potential elder abuse scenarios which covered five categories of abuse: physical, psychological, sexual, financial and neglect. Participants were asked to indicate whether or not they perceived each situation to represent an example of elder abuse and, if they answered affirmatively, to rate the severity of the abusive behaviour and identify which aspect of the scenario they considered abusive. Data were analysed using split-plot analysis of variance, as well as contingency tables. The results suggested that significant differences existed in the perceptions of severity of elder abuse scenarios across groups and gender. General practitioners tended to view the scenarios as less severe examples of elder abuse than the older-aged groups. There were similarities within the elderly groups in that all groups perceived the sexual abuse scenarios as examples of more severe forms of abuse than the financial abuse scenarios. Within the elderly groups, caregivers generally perceived the scenarios as less abusive. With regard to gender differences, females generally perceived the sexual abuse scenarios as more severe than males. This was particularly so for female independent elders and female care-receivers. Both the symbolic interaction theory and social exchange theory were adopted to explain why there were differences in the perceived severity of the scenarios. It was argued that how the participants viewed the interactions between the characters in the scenarios, and whether they perceived the interactions as being rewarding or unrewarding for particular characters, would affect participants' perceptions of severity. To conclude, with such differences in views found, the development of effective assessment and intervention strategies will be difficult. However, both the public and professionals alike need to increase their understanding on the topic of elder abuse, lest the abuse continues.

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Psychology Commons