What Is Elderly Abuse [Definition & Identifying Warning Signs]

Are you feeling worried about your loved one being in danger? Let’s discuss what is elderly abuse and learn the different types you should be wary of.

Are you concerned that there is elder abuse happening in your community?

Do you know someone experiencing such a disheartening encounter?

Are you wondering if an act can be considered elder abuse or not?

In a nutshell, elder abuse is an act intentionally done to harm, threaten, or risk an elderly person. And at times, this is done by force.

According to the National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA), various elderly abuse can be in different forms. These include:

  • Neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse

Define Elderly Abuse

Elder abuse intentionally puts an elder at risk or harms them by force.

Such an act can be done once or repeatedly over some time.

It occurs in relationships concerning older adults inflicted with harm or distress by other parties, including family members and family caregivers.

Mistreatment can be in the form of physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect of proper care.

Elder abuse is one of the prevalent issues that our society faces, especially among older adults.

According to the World Health Organization, elder abuse prevalence reports show that 1 in 60 older adults suffer from elder abuse in the community and institutional settings.

It is also estimated that over 1 to 2 million American adults age 65 or older have experienced elder mistreatment.

Is there Elderly Abuse in Nursing Homes?

Elderly Abuse in Nursing Homes

Elder abuse can happen anywhere, such as in a family member’s house, nursing homes, and care facilities.

Most elder abuse victims suffered from family members and nursing home staff.

Nursing home elder abuse happens when care facility staff afflict harm or risks to residents. Such an act would sometimes lead to trauma and death.

Factors contributing to elder abuse in a nursing home include understaffing, burnout, and inadequate training.

Caregivers are either undertrained to take care of an elderly person. And sometimes, too much stress can lead them to take their anger out on elderlies.

In cases like this, family members can press charges against the nursing home. They can also demand financial compensation for medical care and other expenditures.

What Is Considered Elderly Abuse?

Anyone can inflict mistreatment among elders in different forms.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), mistreatment can be physical, emotional, financial, or sexual.

Neglect and abandonment are also other forms of elder abuse.

Why Are Elderly Vulnerable to Abuse?

An elderly person is already weak both physically and cognitively. Hence, they are not capable of standing up for themselves.

Mental deterioration and impairments give people, like other family members, an opportunity to take advantage of the condition.

Their financial incapacity can also make them vulnerable to elder abuse. Having less financial means is sometimes connoted as worthlessness.

Most elder abuse victims suffer at home. And adult children, as well as other family members, are often the perpetrators of mistreatment.

However, elder abuse also occurs in institutional settings like nursing homes.

The number of elder abuse victims among nursing home residents has been a major concern for authorities.

Elder abuse victims are mostly women. Yet, some elderly men are also subject to mistreatment.

Often, an older adult becomes a target of elder abuse if:

  • They are frail
  • They have no friends and family
  • They suffer from physical and mental illness
  • They are dependent on other people to take care of themselves

Why Does Elderly Abuse Happen?

Caring for the elderly can be taxing for some.

Caregivers, especially those without proper training, might not be fit to care for older adults.

They might also be unable to manage the stress they may feel when attending to the needs of an older adult.

Aside from these, several risk factors among caregivers have been identified that lead to elder abuse. These risk factors include:

  • Ageism
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Social isolation
  • Relationship between the caregiver and older adult
  • The trauma of domestic violence
  • The intensity of an older adult’s situation or illness
  • Physically or verbally aggressive older adult

What Are the 6 Types of Elder Abuse?

Types of elderly abuse

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) has identified 6 types of mistreatment among elders:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Emotional abuse
  3. Financial abuse
  4. Sexual abuse
  5. Neglect
  6. Abandonment

Physical Abuse

Physical elder abuse is the intentional use of force to harm an elderly.

Physical abuse occurs when a person inflicts bodily harm on an older adult. This may include shoving, hitting, restraining by physical force, or kicking.

Aside from this, using inappropriate drugs and substances and confinement can also be considered physical abuse.

An older adult who experiences this type of abuse can suffer physical pain and injuries.

Warning Signs

Signs of physical harm can be identified to determine if such mistreatment happens to your loved ones.

These include:

Knowing about these signs can help family members know about possible abuse of an older adult.

What if there are situations where medical care is delayed, or there are inconsistent reports on the causes of physical injuries?

That means a caregiver may be trying to avoid suspicion of abuse.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional elder abuse is another type of abuse inflicted among people of old age.

Emotional abuse involves intentionally harming or putting at risk the psychological and mental well-being of an elderly person.

And this can be done by either verbal or non-verbal approaches.

It can be name-calling, belittling, scapegoating, frequent humiliation, or expressing threats.

This, in turn, causes mental pain and distress in older adults. And it also harms their emotional well-being.

Warning Signs

These signs help detect psychological and emotional abuse in an older adult:

  • Withdrawal, depression, or isolation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings
  • Refusing eye contact
  • Frequent arguments
  • Sudden changes in behavior

Financial Abuse

Another type of elder abuse is financial exploitation, which involves the unwarranted use of the belongings of an older person.

It could include forging checks, identity theft, exploiting social security funds and retirement benefits, and the unauthorized use of bank accounts and credit cards.

Financial abuse happens when the monetary belongings of an elderly are taken without their consent.

Warning Signs

To determine if an elderly is suffering from financial elder abuse, you need to look after these signs:

  • Missing belongings and property
  • Unpaid bills
  • Eviction notice
  • Changes to bank account details
  • Canceled bank statements addressed to another person than the older person

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is another form of elder abuse.

It primarily involves non-consensual sexual contact.

Forcefully urging a person to watch pornographic materials and forcing them to undress are other forms of sexual abuse.

This can happen, especially among elders with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other mental impairments preventing them from giving consent.

Warning Signs

The following are signs that can be seen among older adults when they have been sexually abused:

  • Bruises on the genitals or breasts
  • Stained, torn, or bloody underwear
  • Inexplicable bleeding or pain on the genitals and anus
  • Pelvic injuries
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)


When the elderly don’t get their needs, they are most possibly victims of NEGLECT ( or sometimes self-neglect).

This is a form of elder abuse where a caregiver or family member fails to provide adequate care.

Elders who are victims of neglect acquire several injuries and illnesses because the caretaker or family member cannot protect the older person from harm.

Neglect can be intentional or unintentional.

At home, adult children or other family members can deny that the older adult’s health is deteriorating. And that they need attention and intensive care.

However, neglect in a nursing home results from carelessness and mismanagement.

Neglect can be seen as inadequate support for physical, social, and emotional needs and withholding medication, access to proper health care, and food.

On the other hand, self-neglect occurs when the elderly cannot meet their basic needs. Hence, a caregiver or family member must be taking care of them.

Self-neglect can be avoided in an assisted living facility or if the elderly stay in a family member’s home.

If neglect happens in such cases, it is already committed by other people and not the elderly person themselves.

Warning Signs

To identify if an elderly is neglected and not well taken care of, the following can be potential indicators:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Unable to pay bills
  • Untreated health-related conditions
  • Untreated physical injuries and bed sores
  • Minimal to no access to medical assistance and care


Elder mistreatment can also be in the form of abandonment.

Abandonment sometimes happens conjointly with elder neglect. And this occurs when caretakers or their families leave them alone without any support.

Individuals who are supposed to be responsible for taking care of the elderly usually commit this type of abuse.

Warning Signs

You can identify abandonment if these signs are seen among victims:

  • They seem afraid, lost, and confused
  • Lacks proper hygiene
  • Little to no access to proper health care
  • Sudden weight loss

What Is the Most Common Abuse in Elderly?

Most common abuse in elderly

Emotional abuse is the most common form of elder abuse reported in adult protective services.

At least 15% of elderlies have experienced this in a year.

The second and third most common types of elder abuse are physical and financial mistreatment.

What Is Elderly Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse is known to be a difficult-to-detect type of abuse.

Members of the family or caregivers do not only commit this. Strangers also take advantage of such situations.

The elderly are also victims of fraud and scams that involve money.

Aside from the unauthorized use of monetary funds and stealing from the belongings of the elderly person, such abuse can also involve financial neglect, exploitation, and health care fraud,

Financial Neglect

Financial neglect occurs when financial responsibilities are not sufficiently met and fulfilled, resulting in unpaid and unsettled bills and statements.

Such a form of mistreatment includes:

  • Not paying rent and mortgages
  • Medical insurance
  • Utility bills
  • Property taxes

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploration involves the mismanagement or exploitation of an elderly person’s belongings and assets.

Such elder abuse is committed with unauthorized transactions to acquire assets on behalf of the elderly. Others could also forcefully use the older adult’s identity or get monetary benefits.

Health Care Fraud

Doctors and other health care providers in institutional settings can commit this elder abuse.

Such an act could involve:

  • overcharging hospital bills
  • falsifying medical claims
  • charging unprovided medical treatment
  • billing the patient twice for the same cause.

Prevention of Elderly Abuse

Prevention of Elderly Abuse

Elder abuse prevalence is indeed very alarming. It has been one of the major public health issues that we face in today’s time.

However, there are ways that we can do to prevent abuse among elderlies.

Here are a handful of tips for preventing elder abuse if you are a caregiver:

  • Take care of yourself and your mental health
  • Relieve stress and burnout before you interact
  • Learn techniques in caregiving from professionals
  • Join support groups for caregivers
  • Seek professional help to resolve substance use, depression, or other concerns

If you are an adult child or family of the elderly, these tips can help prevent elder abuse:

  • Visit or monitor the elderly person frequently
  • Look after the older adult’s medication and belongings
  • Be knowledgeable of the signs of elder abuse
  • Allow the caregiver to take day-offs

How to Report Elderly Abuse?

When you witness or suspect such incidents, you MUST report elder abuse to authorities.

Abused elders are sometimes incapable of reporting abuse themselves. Hence, it is crucial that you also know how to report occurrences like these.

With this, authorities can respond accordingly.

You can get help from local adult protective services, helplines, and emergency shelters.

Such agencies are knowledgeable of state laws that protect abused elderlies. Reporting these incidents to appropriate offices can help file legal charges against abusers.

Final Thoughts

Elder abuse is truly alarming. It is one of the most common yet less reported public health issues.

It is up to you to prevent elder abuse.

Whenever you witness or know someone suffering from any of the different types of elder abuse, you must report them to authorities and other providers of legal assistance.

This way, you can help to protect elderlies, especially your loved ones. And build a safe place that is inclusive for people of all ages.