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Elder Abuse

Elder Abuse


What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is the mistreatment of an older person. It can be physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect. The person who does it may be a caregiver, a family member, a spouse, or a friend.

Elder abuse can include:

  • Acts of violence. Examples are:
    • Hitting, kicking, or beating.
    • Pushing, choking, or burning.
    • Physical restraints.
  • Forced sexual contact or sexual contact without consent. This includes:
    • Unwanted touching.
    • All types of sexual assault.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse. This includes:
    • Name-calling.
    • Threats, intimidation, or humiliation.
  • Neglect. Examples are:
    • Not providing food, clothing, or personal shelter.
    • Not paying nursing home or assisted-living facility costs if you are legally responsible to do so.
  • Abandonment. This includes leaving an older person without care when you are physically or legally responsible to provide care.
  • Illegal or improper use of an older person's funds, property, or assets. Examples are:
    • Forging an older person's signature.
    • Stealing money or possessions.

What are the signs of abuse?

Signs of elder abuse depend on the type of abuse. If the person is seriously injured, get treatment right away.

Signs of violence may include:

  • Bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks.
  • Cuts, punctures, or untreated injuries in various stages of healing.
  • Broken bones, including the skull.
  • Sprains, dislocations, or internal injuries.
  • Broken eyeglasses or dentures.
  • Signs of being restrained.
  • Reports of overdose or underuse of medicines.
  • Reports from the older adult of being physically mistreated.
  • A sudden change in behavior.
  • A caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see an older person alone.

Signs of possible sexual abuse include:

  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area.
  • Venereal disease or genital infections that can't be explained.
  • Vaginal or anal bleeding that can't be explained.
  • Underclothes that are torn or stained.
  • Reports from the older person of being sexually assaulted.

Emotional or psychological abuse is possible if the older person:

  • Seems upset or agitated.
  • Acts withdrawn, doesn't talk or respond, or is paranoid.
  • Shows unusual behavior, such as sucking, biting, and rocking.
  • Reports being verbally or emotionally mistreated.

Signs of neglect may include:

  • Dehydration.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Untreated health problems.
  • Pressure ulcers.
  • Poor personal hygiene.
  • Unsafe or dirty living conditions.
  • Reports from the older person of being mistreated.

Signs of abandonment include leaving an older person at a shopping center, a park, or another public location.

Signs of financial abuse include:

  • Sudden changes in a bank account or banking practice. For example there may be withdrawals of large sums of money that can't be explained.
  • Names added to an older person's bank card.
  • Abrupt changes in a will or other financial document.
  • Missing funds or valuable possessions.
  • Unpaid bills or substandard care even though funds are available.
  • Evidence of the older person's signature being forged.
  • Sudden appearance of relatives who have not been involved before.
  • Payment for services that aren't needed.
  • Reports from the older person of financial abuse.

What factors can make abuse more likely?

Many things can contribute to elder abuse. Risk factors include:

  • Domestic violence carried over into the elder years. A large number of elder abuse cases are abuse by a spouse.
  • Having a caregiver with a mental health condition. Sometimes a person who abuses others has a mental health condition. The risk of abuse may be higher if the older person's adult child is living with them as their caregiver.
  • Financial issues. Abuse can happen if the caregiver (often the older person's adult child) relies on the older person for financial support.
  • Social isolation. A caregiver or family member who is abusive may try to isolate the older person from others. This can make it easier to keep the abuse a secret.

How can you get help?

If you are worried that someone you know might be a victim of elder abuse, talk to your doctor. Ask the doctor what to look for, what the risks are, and what help is available.

To report elder abuse or to get help, call Adult Protection Services (APS) in your state.

  • You can find the telephone number for APS by calling directory assistance and asking for the number for the Department of Social Services or Aging Services.
  • If you can't find the telephone number for APS, call Eldercare Locator toll-free at 1-800-677-1116. They can help you find resources in your area. Eldercare is sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging.


Current as of: June 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.