Lifetime abuse and somatic symtoms among older women and men in Europe


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Publication Details

Author list: Eslami, Bahareh;Soares, Joaquim J. F.

Publication year: 2019

ISSN: 1932-6203

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0220741

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Research suggests that survivors of interpersonal violence have an increasing experience of bodily symptoms. This study aims to scrutinise the association between lifetime abuse and somatic symptoms among older women and men, considering demographics/socio-economic, social support and health variables.


A sample of 4,467 community-dwelling persons aged 60–84 years (57.3% women) living in seven European countries (Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Sweden) was recruited for this cross-sectional study. Lifetime abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial and injury) was assessed on the basis of the UK study of elder abuse and the Conflict Tactics Scale-2, while somatic symptoms were assessed by the Giessen Complaint List short version.


Women reported somatic symptoms more frequently than men. Multiple regression analyses revealed that lifetime exposure to psychological abuse was associated with higher levels of somatic symptoms among both women and men, while experiencing lifetime sexual abuse was associated with somatic symptoms only among older women, after adjusting for other demographic and socio-economic variables. Country of residence, older age, and low socio-economic status were other independent factors contributing to a higher level of somatic symptoms.


The positive association between the experience of abuse during lifetime and the reporting of higher levels of somatic symptoms, in particular among older women, seems to suggest that such complaints in later life might also be related to the experience of mistreatment and not only to ageing and related diseases. Violence prevention throughout lifetime could help to prevent somatic symptoms in later life.


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