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What is Elder Abuse?

In the United States, it is estimated that over 10% of those age 65 and older experience some form of elder abuse in a given year.

As people age, loneliness and isolation can lead to abuse.

But with the right social structures in place, people can remain connected to their community and to society as a whole, reducing the likelihood of elder abuse. No matter how old we are, all of us deserve to remain engaged in our communities and society as whole—free from the threat of abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Click each section below to learn more about the signs and types of elder abuse, who might be most at risk, and how to recognize and report elder abuse. 

What is elder abuse? 

Elder abuse is any intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or a trusted person that causes or creates a serious risk of harm to an older adult.

In general, elder abuse refers to intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or “trusted” individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. In many states, younger adults with disabilities may qualify for the same services and protections. Physical abuse; neglect; emotional or psychological abuse; financial abuse and exploitation; sexual abuse; and abandonment are considered forms of elder abuse. In many states, self-neglect is also considered mistreatment.

What are the types of elder abuse? 

Elder mistreatment typically takes one of the following forms: physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and neglect. Older adults may also experience maltreatment in the form of self-neglect and/or abandonment. 

Physical Abuse is the intentional or reckless use of physical harm or physical coercion that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment. Under the Older Americans Act, ‘‘physical harm’’ means bodily injury, impairment, or disease. Examples include but are not limited to: 

  • Hitting, beating, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, and burning
  • Unlawful, excessive, or unnecessary use of force like restraints or force-feeding
  • Over-medication or under-medication 

Sexual Abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an older adult. Examples include but are not limited to:  

  • Unwanted touching, sexual assault or battery, sexual harassment
  • Sexual interaction with elders who lack the capacity to give consent 

Emotional/Psychological Abuse is the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts.  Examples include but are not limited to:    

  • Verbal assaults
  • Insults or threats
  • Intimidation, humiliation, isolation, and harassment

Neglect is the refusal or failure of a caregiver or fiduciary to fulfill any part of a person's obligations or duties of care to an older person. The Elder Justice Act defines neglect as “the failure of a caregiver or fiduciary to provide the goods or services that are necessary to maintain the health or safety of an elder. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Failing to provide for life necessities such as food, water, clothing, shelter, and medicine 

Financial Abuse is the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older person’s resources for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, or that results in depriving an older person of rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings, or assets. Examples include but are not limited to: 

  • Misusing or stealing an older person’s money or possessions 
  • Coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document such as a contract or will
  • Improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney 

Self-Neglect is an adult’s inability, due to physical or mental impairment or diminished capacity, to perform essential self-care tasks. Examples include but are not limited to: 

  • Obtaining adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medical and mental health care, and safety precautions, and/or managing one’s finances. 
  • Self-neglect excludes a situation in which a mentally competent older person, who understands the consequences of their decisions, makes a conscious and voluntary decision to engage in acts that threaten their health or safety as a matter of personal choice. 
Who is at risk of elder abuse? 

Elder abuse can occur anywhere — in the home, in nursing homes, or other institutions. It affects seniors across all socio-economic groups, cultures, and races. Based on available information, women and “older” elders are more likely to be victimized. Dementia is a significant risk factor. Mental health and substance abuse issues — of both abusers and victims — are risk factors. Isolation can also contribute to risk.

What are the signs of elder abuse? 

Learn the signs.

It is important to understand the signs of abuse so you are equipped to recognize and report it.

Signs of Physical Abuse:

  • Bruises, black eyes, welts
  • Broken bones, cuts, sprains
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Caregiver refuses to leave the elder adult alone

Signs of Financial Abuse:

  • Basic needs not being met
  • Bills not paid
  • New credit cards and increased cash withdrawals
  • Unusual purchases by caregiver

Signs of Emotional/Psychological Abuse:

  • Threatening significant harm
  • Using derogatory names, insults, profanity, or ridicule
  • Harrassment, coercion, intimidation, humiliation

Signs of Neglect and Self Neglect:

  • Lack of adequate food and water
  • Dirty clothing and changes in personal hygiene
  • Unusually messy home
  • Lack of medical aids or medications

 

What are some characteristics associated with elder abuse? 

Elder abuse can happen to anyone by anyone and occur in multiple settings, including the community and in long-term care facilities. A combination of medical, psychological, functional, social, and economic factors may be associated with the occurrence of elder maltreatment. These risk factors may potentially expose older adults to a heightened risk of abuse. Examples include but are not limited to: 

  • Chronic medical and mental health conditions  
  • Cognitive impairment  
  • Physical, financial, and emotional dependence  
  • History of poor family relationship between older adult and caregiver  
  • Caregiver burden 
  • Social isolation 
  • Lack of access to support and resources 
What should I do if I suspect abuse? 

Report your concerns.

Most cases of elder abuse go undetected. Don’t assume that someone has already reported a suspicious situation. The agency receiving the report will ask what you observed, who was involved, and who they can contact to learn more. You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professionals to investigate the suspicions.

To report suspected abuse in your community, contact your local Adult Protective Services (APS) agency:

  • Nevada County | (888) 339-7248
  • Placer County | (888) 886-5401
  • Sacramento County | (916) 874-9377
  • Sierra County | (530) 289-3720
  • Sutter County | (530) 822-7227
  • Yolo County | (530) 661-2727
  • Yuba County | (530) 749-6471

Outside of the these counties, visit www.apsnetwork.org, visit the NCEA website at www.ncea.aoa.gov or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for the number to your local Adult Protective Services office.

To report suspected abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility in Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, or Yuba counties, contact Agency on Aging Area 4's Long-Term Care Ombudsman program:

Outside of these counties, visit www.ltcombudsman.org, visit the NCEA website at www.ncea.aoa.gov or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for the number to your local Ombudsman program.

This information is provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), who provides the latest information and resources on research, training, policy, and best practices on preventing and responding to elder mistreatment. For more information about elder abuse, please visit the National Center on Elder Abuse.