Types of Older Adult Abuse

Elder abuse, sometimes called "older adult abuse," is the mistreatment or exploitation of people over 65. It can take many different forms.

Elder abuse, or older adult abuse, is the mistreatment or exploitation of people over 65. It can take many forms, and perpetrators can range from family members to long-term care facility staff.

Victims of elder abuse are often vulnerable adults. Elder abuse can range from physical harm to fraud or undue influence to extract financial gain. Decision-making incapacity and financial instability are common issues in many elder abuse cases.

Elder abuse can occur in many places, including at home or an assisted living facility. We explain the main types of elder abuse below.

See FindLaw's Elder Abuse Overview for more general information and Signs of Elder Abuse for symptoms and warning signs. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) is also great for learning about elder rights and resources.

Older Adult Physical Abuse

Physical abuse against someone over 65 is any use of physical force likely to result in physical injury, pain, or impairment. Typical forms of physical abuse include:

  • Beating
  • Pushing
  • Shaking
  • Kicking
  • Slapping
  • Burning

Other examples of physical abuse applicable to elderly people include:

  • Force-feeding
  • Excessive use of physical restraints
  • Drugs and medications (if misused)
  • Holding someone against their will (false arrest)

Older adults are often easily injured. This means physical abuse can result from seemingly minor acts of physical contact. For example, a tight grip on an older person's arm could cause bruising. If a person does it with the intent to harm or control the person's will, it is physical abuse.

Older Adult Emotional/Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse is an act that causes emotional pain, distress, or anguish. Emotional/psychological abuse includes:

  • Verbal assaults
  • Intimidation
  • Humiliation
  • Threats
  • Insults
  • Harassment

This type of elder abuse is usually verbal, but not always. For example, isolating an older person from their family and friends is a non-verbal form of emotional abuse. Emotional/psychological abuse is a byproduct of physical abuse, such as when an older person fears their abuser. If your loved one is exhibiting sudden changes in behavior and personality, this may be a sign that someone is abusing them.

Older Adult Sexual Abuse

Any non-consensual sexual contact with an elderly person is sexual abuse. Sexual contact with an older person with a disability who is incapable of giving consent is sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse includes:

  • Unwanted touching
  • Sexually explicit photographing
  • Forced nudity
  • All types of sexual assault and battery (such as rape and molestation)

Older Adult Neglect

Neglect generally refers to a caregiver's failure to fulfill their duty to provide the care an elderly person needs. This applies to people, health providers, nursing homes, and other care facilities.

Neglect is active or passive. Active neglect means the caregiver intentionally withholds care. Passive neglect is when caregivers cannot fulfill their responsibilities for any reason. Reasons can include excessive stress or a lack of resources.

Neglect is failing to provide a dependent older person with life necessities. Life necessities are food, clean water, shelter, personal hygiene, clean clothing, and basic medical care. Signs of neglect include untreated bedsores, dehydration, and malnutrition.

Older Adult Self-Neglect

Self-neglect is the only category of elderly abuse without a perpetrator. Self-neglect typically occurs when an older person threatens their health or safety. For example, if an older person fails to provide adequate hygiene, food, or water, they neglect themselves.

The person is a mentally competent older person who fails to handle basic needs. Self-neglect, which does not involve other parties, is a form of abuse. You need to refer such cases to Adult Protective Services (APS).

Older Adult Financial Exploitation or Material Exploitation

Financial abuse covers a broad spectrum of fraud, scams, outright theft, and other methods of extracting financial or material gain from vulnerable older adults. Common examples of financial abuse include:

  • Cashing checks without authorization
  • Forging signatures
  • Accessing an older person's bank account or using their credit cards without permission.
  • Stealing or misusing money or possessions
  • Coercing or deceiving an older person into signing a document
  • Improperly using a guardianship, conservatorship, or power of attorney

Often the perpetrator of financial older adult abuse is an unscrupulous telemarketer, confidence (or "con") artist, or any person who preys on the weaknesses of older adults.

For example, older persons are more likely to own their homes outright. Scammers may try to trick them into signing over the deed to their home in exchange for a future payoff that never comes.

One way to help prevent your loved one from financial abuse is by having the proper legal documents in place. FindLaw allows you to create a DIY power of attorney document and a living trust if one doesn't already exist for your loved one.

Older Adult Abandonment

Abandonment occurs when a designated caretaker or legal guardian leaves an elder person to fend for themselves. While it includes elements of neglect, abandonment is the total desertion of an elderly person. Common examples of abandonment include leaving an unsuspecting victim at a nursing home or shopping mall.

Get Help From an Attorney

Reporting elder abuse is often overwhelming. If you suspect abuse, immediately contact Adult Protective Services (APS), law enforcement, or a local long-term care ombudsperson program. You can also start by getting legal advice from an elder abuse attorney specializing in your state's abuse laws.

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