Interviewing Older Adults

  • Before beginning your interview, get in the right mind frame. Take a moment to clear your mind of stereotypes, good and bad, about older adults.
  • Like victims of other domestic violence, treat older victims of abuse with respect. Conduct their interviews with the gravity their situations deserve.
  • Know that people with memory problems can tell you what happened—especially if an event made an emotional impact.
  • Believe their story unless you have specific evidence to the contrary.
  • DO ask open-ended questions
  • DO speak slowly, using short sentences
  • DO ask about only one thing at a time
  • DO speak at eye level (authority can be intimidating to persons who feel vulnerable)
  • DO be patient – give them time to answer
  • DON’T correct them
  • DO believe someone if they say they’ve been abused
  • Choose an interview location that’s comfortable for the older adult.
    For example: senior center, doctor’s office, coffee shop
  • Ask the client and/or caregiver for timing tips to ensure the older adult is alert for your interview.
    For example: Is morning better than afternoon? Does a medication cause drowsiness or confusion after taking it?
  • Be aware of any barriers there might be for effective communication.
    For example: Does the older adult have their glasses/hearing aid/dentures on and working? Is the interview private, and away from the suspect’s hearing range?

Be prepared to offer social support in the form of connections to:

  • other caregivers
  • an alternative living option
  • safety (patrol check-ins and follow-up)

Identify and prepare to refer to your local elder resources. Know if your precinct has an older adult safety program and how to activate it for the alleged victim.

Remember to speak to the older adult at eye level.