Abuse has immediate effects on health and, in some cases, is fatal. It has been established that exposure to abuse results in physical, mental, and behavioral health consequences. Maltreatment is a common and significant burden on the health care system that can produce residual effects, both short and long term. In fact, the negative health consequences can persist long after the abuse has stopped. Single traumatic events can affect a person for life, while a history of being a victim of abuse can have even more severe consequences. Nevertheless, there have been few studies on the relationship between abuse and the perceived quality of life, especially in regard to a lifetime of abuse and its effects on older people.
In a recent issue of the journal Health & Social Work, published by NASW press, the findings of a study of the effects of a lifetime of abuse on the quality of life for older adults were released. The data was collected in a multinational European study on abuse and health, and researchers cross-referenced histories of abuse with subjective perceptions of quality of life.
A lifetime of abuse can result in physical and psychological disorders. Victims can develop depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, and chronic physical complaints such as headaches, IBS, and gastrointestinal disorders. Not just physical abuse, but psychological and financial abuse can lead to these issues.
The statistical analyses from this study reveal a significant difference in quality of life perceptions between those who experienced no abuse and those who had experienced a lifetime of abuse. The study showed that experiences of violence have a negative impact in quality of life, and even seem to affect the aging process. First, the study highlighted the importance of screening for violence early in life, when these experiences have a negative impact in quality of life. The identification and assessment of interpersonal violence experiences is a difficult process because this is not a visible problem, and the disclosure of such experiences is very dependent on the individual intention. Therefore, the researchers suggest, an appropriate setting is required to gather this type of information. The researchers state:
Social workers are the professionals with appropriate training to identify and assess interpersonal violence experiences in different settings, using multiple sources of information. These professionals are prepared with empathy skills to deal with interpersonal difficulties. In research, social workers are prepared to provide training to other professionals to effectively use screening tools. They are also able to provide the appropriate support, for instance, in the context of violence research. Social workers usually collaborate with organizations or associations that would effectively respond to victims. Identifying and assessing the problem contributes to monitoring it in society. However, we also need a holistic understanding of violence to shape the interventions efforts. Social workers and other professionals should work collaboratively in this task.