Social Workers' Perceptions of the Effect of Interpersonal Factors on Older Adults' Decision to Remain in Abusive Relationships

Sagit Lev, Mickey Schindler, Yael Waksman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Older adults who are abused by their offspring often find it difficult to cooperate with professionals to end the abuse. In these situations, social workers face an ethical dilemma between respecting the older adult's right to autonomy and intervening in a paternalistic way to prevent harm. This qualitative study aimed to examine the effect of interpersonal factors on the decision-making ability of older adults who do not experience significant cognitive and mental decline and choose to remain in abusive relationships. Twenty-one social workers specialising in the field of aging participated in a semi-structured interview based on a vignette. The analysis was encoded inductively, informed by the principles of content analysis. Two themes emerged: (i) Older adults' feelings towards their abusive adult children, including love and concern, shame and guilt and relationships with symbiotic characteristics; (ii) Older adults' motivation to stay in the abusive relationships, based either on utilitarian motivation or on their fear of the abuser. The study's findings can serve as a foundation for the development of a tool for evaluating the influence of abusive relationships on older adults' decision-making ability, which considers not only their personal characteristics but also their interactions and relationships with their surroundings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)649-667
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.


  • decision-making ability
  • elder abuse
  • ethical dilemma
  • relational autonomy
  • social workers


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