Elder abuse, sometimes called "older adult abuse," is the mistreatment or exploitation of people over 65. It can take many different forms.
Common instances of elder abuse range from the infliction of physical harm to the use of fraud or coercion to extract financial or material gain from vulnerable adults.
The main types of elder abuse are explained below. See Elder Abuse Overview for more general information and Signs of Elder Abuse for symptoms and warning signs.
Older Adult Physical Abuse
Physical abuse against someone over 65 entails any use of physical force likely to result in injury, physical pain, or impairment. Common forms of physical abuse include hitting, striking, beating, pushing, shaking, pinching, kicking, slapping, and burning.
Other examples of abuse applicable to elderly individuals are:
- Excessive use of physical restraints
- Drugs and medications (if used inappropriately)
- Holding someone against their will (referred to as false arrest)
Since older adults often are frail and easily injured, physical abuse may include seemingly minor acts of physical contact.
For example, a tight grip on an older person's arm could cause bruising. If it is done with intent to harm, or control against the individual's will, it would be considered physical abuse.
Older Adult Emotional/Psychological Abuse
Emotional and/or psychological abuse is typically defined as an act that causes emotional pain, distress, or anguish. Common forms of emotional/psychological abuse include verbal assaults, intimidation, humiliation, threats, insults, harassment, and treating older adults like children.
This type of elder abuse usually is verbal, but not always. For example, giving an older person silent treatment or isolating them from family and friends are non-verbal forms of emotional/psychological abuse.
Emotional and/or psychological abuse sometimes is a byproduct of physical abuse, such as when an older person fears their abuser.
Older Adult Sexual Abuse
Any non-consensual sexual contact with an elderly person is considered sexual abuse. Additionally, sexual contact with an older person who is incapable of giving consent or who is too confused to fully understand what is happening also is sexual abuse.
Common forms of sexual abuse include unwanted touching, sexually explicit photographing, forced nudity, and 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 needed by an elderly person. This applies to individuals, nursing homes, and other care facilities.
Neglect is either active or passive. "Active neglect" means the caregiver either intentionally withholds care. Passive neglect is when a caregiver cannot fulfill their responsibilities (passive) for any reason, such as excessive stress or a lack of resources.
Neglect is failing to provide a dependent older person with life necessities, such as food, clean water, shelter, personal hygiene, clean clothing, medicine, safety, and basic comfort. Neglect also may contribute to emotional abuse.
Older Adult Self-Neglect
Self-neglect is the only category of elderly abuse without a perpetrator. Typically, self-neglect occurs when an older person threatens their own health or safety by failing to provide themself with adequate hygiene, food, water, medications, shelter, or safety precautions.
The individual is determined to be a mentally competent older person who nevertheless fails to take care of basic needs. Self-neglect, which does not involve other parties, is identified as a form of abuse for the purposes of referring such cases to Adult Protective Services (APS).
Older Adult Financial Exploitation or Material Exploitation
Financial abuse covers a broad spectrum of fraud, confidence (or "con") jobs, outright theft, and other methods of extracting financial or material gain from vulnerable older adults.
Common examples of financial elder abuse include:
- Cashing checks without authorization
- Forging signatures
- 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
If needed, you can create a DIY power of attorney document and a living trust if one does not already exist for your loved one.
Often the perpetrator of financial older adult abuse is an unscrupulous telemarketer, confidence (or "con") artist, or any individual 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.
Older Adult Abandonment
Abandonment occurs when a designated caretaker or legal guardian leaves an elder person to fend for themself. 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. It is any act that completely turns their back on their responsibilities to the victim.
Get Help From an Attorney
If you are unsure where to turn but suspect abuse, start by talking to an attorney who focuses on these matters. Many offer a free consultation by phone.