Being a victim of abuse during one's life course may affect social relations in later life. The aims of this study were to: (i) examine the association between lifetime abuse and perceived social support and (ii) identify correlates of perceived social support among older persons living in seven European countries.
A sample of 4467 women and men aged 60-84 years living in Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain and Sweden was collected through a cross-sectional population-based study. Abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial and injury) was assessed through interviews or interviews/self-response questionnaire based on the Conflict Tactics Scale-2 and the UK study on elder abuse. Perceived social support was assessed by the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support.
Victims of lifetime abuse perceived poorer social support in later life. Multivariate analyses showed that high levels of perceived social support were associated with being from Greece and Lithuania (compared to Germany), being female, not living alone, consuming alcohol and physical activity. Poorer perceived social support was associated with being from Portugal, being old, having social benefits as the main source of income, experiencing financial strain and being exposed to lifetime psychological abuse and injuries.
Our findings showed that exposure to psychological abuse and injuries across the lifespan were associated with low levels of perceived social support, emphasizing the importance of detection and appropriate treatment of victims of abuse during their life course. Future research should focus on coping strategies buffering the negative effects of abuse on social relationships.