Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is the mistreatment of an older person. It can be financial, verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Neglect and abandonment is elder abuse. The following describe the various types of elder abuse:

  • Neglect and abandonment is failing to provide adequate care or permanently leaving the older person without care. It is the most common type of elder abuse.
  • Physical abuse is the use of physical force to purposely cause pain or injury. This includes hitting, pushing, or restraining the older person.
  • Emotional and verbal abuse is when a person uses words or nonverbal actions to cause the older adult emotional pain. This includes yelling at, ignoring, or making fun of the older person.
  • Sexual abuse is when a person engages in sexual acts with an older person without his or her consent. This includes sex and inappropriate touching or undressing.
  • Financial abuse is when someone steals money or property from an older person. This could be a family member, a stranger, or an organization posing as a fake charity. It includes using the older person’s credit cards, checks, or cash. It includes stealing jewelry, other property, or the older person’s identity.

As people age, they may develop health problems. This leads to a decrease in physical strength, vision, and thinking abilities. These changes make older adults vulnerable. They may depend on others for care. They may be unable to tell when someone is taking advantage of them.

Path to improved well being

If you or someone else is caring for a loved one, make sure they are safe. If you suspect abuse of any kind, call the local police department. If you need immediate help, call 9-1-1. Tell your loved one to call for help if they think that are being mistreated. Every state has an elder abuse hotline. Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse to find the phone number for your state. You do not have to prove that the abuse is occurring. An agency called Adult Protective Services will respond to your call. It will investigate the situation and take action if it is needed.

Take steps to prevent elder abuse. If you are a caregiver, take care of your health and learn how to manage your stress. This will help you provide the best possible care for your loved one. If you become overwhelmed or think you might start abusing an older adult, get help. Talk to your family doctor about your feelings. Find someone else to care for your relative until you are feeling better. Take breaks.

If your loved one is receiving care at home or in a long-term care facility, stay involved in his or her care. If you are unhappy with his or her care, speak to management. Report suspected abuse to the state.

Make sure your loved one’s financial and legal documents are in order. Read “Planning for the Future after a Diagnosis of Dementia” for a list of financial and legal issues to discuss with your family members. This is helpful for older persons who have dementia. Review your loved one’s bank and credit card statements. Keep track of household valuables.

Things to consider

Anyone can commit elder abuse. Many abusers are family members. This includes adult children or spouses who care for the older person. Caregivers have an increased risk of committing elder abuse when:

  • They are not able to cope with the stress of being a caregiver.
  • They are depressed.
  • They don’t have a support system.
  • They abuse alcohol or other drugs.

Abusers also may include health care workers, neighbors, friends, organizations, or scam artists. These may be people looking to financially exploit older adults.

What are the warning signs of abuse?

An older adult who is being abused may have one or more of the following physical and behavioral warning signs:

  • Unexplained injuries. This includes cuts, burns, or broken bones.
  • Unexplained marks on the body. This includes scars or bruises.
  • Untreated medical conditions. This includes incorrect medicine or incorrect dosage.
  • Changes in behavior or personality. This includes withdrawal or depression.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding.
  • Unusual coping mechanisms. This includes rocking back and forth or talking to oneself.
  • Weight loss or other symptoms of malnutrition or dehydration.
  • Personal hygiene problems. This includes unwashed skin, clothes, and dirty living conditions.

Warning signs of financial exploitation include one or more of the following:

  • Unexplained withdrawals from his or her ATM card, checking, or savings accounts.
  • Unexplained or unusual credit card purchases.
  • Missing jewelry, cash, or other valuables.
  • Suspicious or too-good-to-be-true investment or prize offers.

A caregiver who is abusing an older adult may:

  • Refuse to let you be alone with the older person.
  • Threaten, make fun of, or argue with the older person in front of you.
  • Not respond to your questions about the older person’s care.
  • Appear poorly trained or overworked.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What questions should I ask a caregiver when I am looking for one to help my loved one?
  • How do I know if injuries are related to abuse or an accident?
  • I need a break from caregiving. Where can I turn for help?


National Institute on Aging: Elder Abuse

U.S. Department of Justice: Elder Justice Initiative (EJI)

U.S. National Library of Medicine: Elder Abuse

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