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Elder Abuse

elder abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial abuse

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person." 

Types of Elder Abuse

There are many types of abuse:

  • Physical abuse happens when someone causes bodily harm by hitting, pushing, or slapping. This may also include restraining an older adult against his/her will, such as locking them in a room or tying them to furniture.

  • Emotional abuse, sometimes called psychological abuse, can include a caregiver saying hurtful words, yelling, threatening, or repeatedly ignoring the older adult. Keeping that person from seeing close friends and relatives is another form of emotional abuse.

  • Neglect occurs when the caregiver does not try to respond to the older adult's needs. This may include physical, emotional, and social needs, or withholding food, medications, or access to health care.

  • Abandonment is leaving an older adult who needs help alone without planning for his or her care.

  • Sexual abuse involves a caregiver forcing an older adult to watch or be part of sexual acts.

  • Financial abuse happens when money or belongings are stolen from an older adult. It can include forging checks, taking someone else's retirement or Social Security benefits, or using a person's credit cards and bank accounts without their permission. It also includes changing names on a will, bank account, life insurance policy, or title to a house without permission.

You can see these signs and more on our Power & Control Wheel for Adults Later in Life.

financial neglect, older adult neglect, healthcare fraud, health care fraud, financial exploitation

Speaking of Financial Abuse...

Financial abuse is becoming a widespread and hard-to-detect issue. Even someone you've never met can steal your financial information using the telephone, internet, or email. Be careful about sharing any financial information over the phone or online — you don't know who will use it. In addition to the theft of an older person’s money or belongings, financial abuse also includes:

  • Financial neglect occurs when an older adult’s financial responsibilities such as paying rent or mortgage, medical expenses or insurance, utility bills, or property taxes, are ignored, and the person’s bills are not paid.

  • Financial exploitation is the misuse, mismanagement, or exploitation of property, belongings, or assets. This includes using an older adult’s assets without consent, under false pretense, or through intimidation and/or manipulation.

  • Health care fraud can be committed by doctors, hospital staff, or other health care workers. It includes overcharging, billing twice for the same service, falsifying Medicaid or Medicare claims, or charging for care that wasn't provided. Older adults and caregivers should keep an eye out for this type of fraud.

Who is Being Abused?

Most victims of abuse are women, but some are men. Likely targets are older adults who have no family or friends nearby and people with disabilities, memory problems, or dementia.

Abuse can happen to any older adult, but often affects those who depend on others for help with activities of everyday life — including bathing, dressing, and taking medicine. People who are frail may appear to be easy victims.

What Are Signs of Abuse?

You may see signs of abuse or neglect when you visit an older adult at home or in an eldercare facility. You may notice the person:


  • Stops taking part in activities he or she enjoys

  • Looks messy, with unwashed hair or dirty clothes

  • Has trouble sleeping

  • Loses weight for no reason

  • Becomes withdrawn or acts agitated or violent

  • Displays signs of trauma, like rocking back and forth

  • Has unexplained bruises, burns, cuts, or scars

  • Has broken eyeglasses/frames, or physical signs of punishment or being restrained

  • Develops bed sores or other preventable conditions

  • Lacks medical aids (glasses, walker, dentures, hearing aid, medications)

  • Has an eviction notice for unpaid rent, notice of late mortgage, or home eviction

  • Has hazardous, unsafe, or unclean living conditions

  • Displays signs of insufficient care or unpaid bills despite adequate financial resources

If you see signs of abuse, try talking with the older adult to find out what's going on. For instance, the abuse may be from another resident and not from someone who works at the nursing home or assisted living facility. Most importantly, get help or report what you see to adult protective services. You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring. Professionals will investigate.

Who Can Help?

Elder abuse will not stop on its own. Someone else needs to step in and help. Many older adults are too ashamed to report mistreatment. Or, they're afraid if they make a report it will get back to the abuser and make the situation worse.

If you think someone you know is being abused — physically, emotionally, or financially — talk with him or her when the two of you are alone. You could say you think something is wrong and you're worried. 

Things You Can Do:

  • Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website for more information.

  • Call the Eldercare Locator on weekdays at 800-677-1116.

  • If you have a concern that an older adult or an adult with disabilities is being exploited, abused or neglected, call contact your local Department of Social Services

  • If you think someone is in urgent danger, call 911 or your local police to get help right away.

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