When elderly people are victimized, they usually suffer greater physical,
mental, and financial injuries than other age groups. Elderly victims are twice
as likely to suffer serious physical injury and to require hospitalization than
any other age group. Furthermore, the physiological process of aging brings with
it a decreasing ability to heal after injury—both physically and mentally. Thus,
elderly victims may never fully recover from the trauma of their victimization.
Also, the trauma that elderly victims suffer is worsened by their financial
difficulties. Because many elderly people live on a low or fixed income, they
often cannot afford the professional services and products that could help them
in the aftermath of a crime.
It is understandable why the elderly are the most fearful of crime.
Elderly people, in fact, face a number of additional worries and fears when
victimized. First, they may doubt their ability to meet the expectations of law
enforcement and worry that officers will think they are incompetent. They may
worry that a family member, upon learning of their victimization, will also
think they are incompetent. Further, they may fear retaliation by the offender
for reporting the crime. Finally, elderly people may experience feelings of
guilt for “allowing” themselves to be victimized. Depending on your approach as
a first responder, you can do much to restore confidence in and maintain the
dignity of the elderly victims you work with.
Tips for Responding to Elderly Victims
- Be attentive to whether victims are tired or not feeling well.
- Allow victims to collect their thoughts before your interview.
- Ask victims if they are having any difficulty understanding you. Be
sensitive to the possibility that they may have difficulty hearing or
seeing, but do not assume such impairments. Ask victims if they have any
special needs, such as eyeglasses or hearing aids.
- Ask victims whether they would like you to contact a family member or
- Be alert for signs of domestic violence or neglect, since studies
indicate that 10 percent of the elderly are abused by their relatives.
- Give victims time to hear and understand your words during the
- Ask questions one at a time, waiting for a response before proceeding to
the next question. Avoid interrupting victims.
- Repeat key words and phrases. Ask open-ended questions to ensure you are
- Avoid unnecessary pressure. Be patient. Give victims frequent breaks
during your interview.
- Protect the dignity of victims by including them in all decision-making
conversations taking place in their presence.
- For hearing-impaired victims, choose a location free of distractions,
interference, and background noise, and:
- Face the victim so your eyes and mouth are clearly visible.
- Stand or sit at a distance of no more than 6 feet and no fewer than
3 feet from the victim.
- Begin speaking only after you have the victim's attention and have
established eye contact.
- Never speak directly into the victim's ear.
- Speak clearly, distinctly, and slightly slower than usual. Keep your
questions and instructions short and simple. Do not overarticulate your
- If necessary, talk slightly louder than usual but do not shout.
Extremely loud tones are not transmitted as well as normal tones by
- Be prepared to repeat your questions and instructions frequently.
Use different words to restate your questions and instructions.
- Provide enhanced lighting if victims are required to read. Ensure that
all print in written materials is both large enough and dark enough for
victims to read.
- Provide victims written information that summarizes the important points
you communicated verbally so they can refer to this information later.
- Remember that elderly victims' recollections may surface slowly. Do not
pressure them to recollect events or details; rather, ask them to contact
you if they remember anything later.
In all your comments and interactions with elderly victims, their families,
and other professionals involved in the case, focus on the goals of restoring
confidence to and maintaining the dignity of the elderly victims you work with.