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What is Elder Abuse?

The Serious Risk of Elder Abuse and Neglect

elder-abuse-nursing-home-lawsuitWas your loved one the victim of elder abuse at the hands of their adult children, family caregivers, or nursing home? At the Nursing Home Law Center, our personal injury attorneys are legal advocates for elderly residents, the disabled, and those with dementia living at home and in a long-term care facility.

Call our legal team at (800) 926-7565 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form today to schedule a free consultation.

Elder abuse is a serious social problem in the United States. In 2013, three million older adults were victims of elder abuse. The abuse can be physical, emotional, mental, psychological, or financial, impacting the victim’s quality of life.

There are many different types of elder abuse. Still, neglect may not be as well known to some people - it refers to withholding necessary care from an older adult by someone who has been entrusted with their care or supervision (often some in the family).

Neglect can happen in any setting where an adult lives and includes:

  • Failing to provide them with appropriate food, clothing, or shelter
  • Leaving them without needed medical attention or health care
  • Ignoring their cognitive health needs such as depression or other mental illness
  • Preventing access to transportation for doctor visits or shopping
What are the 6 Types of Elder Abuse?

Sadly, the seniors can become victims of elder abuse in six ways, including:

  • Physical Abuse: This abuse is defined as any non-accidental use of force against an older person by a caregiver or another person who, through their actions, makes the older adult believe that they may be at risk of getting hurt from hitting, punching, kicking, shoving, or burning.
  • Sexual Assault: The elderly, especially those with severe memory loss and the frail, are susceptible to sexual abuse, mainly by a caregiver taking advantage of the older person’s vulnerability.
  • Verbal or Emotional Abuse: Any form of psychological mistreatment or humiliation can qualify as emotional abuse. The abusers may yell at or insult the victim; humiliate them in front of others; threaten to place the older adult in an institution; tease them, resulting in verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Mental abuse: Caregivers’ behaviors can cause an older adult to fear their safety or the safety of someone they love. In some cases, abuse can also include denying medication or a medical procedure a physician has recommended, leading to physical discomfort and mental pain.
  • Psychological abuse: This type of abuse is often difficult to recognize as a form of elder abuse, mainly because many people associate psychological torment with more traditional physical mistreatment. Psychological or emotional abuse can take the form of threats, isolation from loved ones, withholding needed medications, or subjecting them to wandering in their home.
  • Financial Abuse: Financial exploitation is one of the most common types of elder abuse. A caregiver could steal money, property, or other assets from older adults with impaired cognitive and physical abilities. Some examples include taking Social Security payments, stealing a checkbook, or using credit cards without the consent of the senior under their care.

In many cases, neglect can lead to financial exploitation because the older adult may not fully understand financial arrangements. As a result, thieves often target older people who know they have accumulated a lifetime of savings and assets.

The thief may try to take the victim’s money or property by deception, the force of intimidation.

Family members and friends need to watch for any signs of mistreatment when caring for an older loved one.

Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

The Department of Health and Hospitals, Aging and Adult Services provides various services to safeguard against elder abuse. Here are some additional ways in which concerned citizens can help prevent domestic elder abuse:

  • Be Aware of the Warning Signs
  • Speak Up if You Suspect Elder Abuse or Other Illegal Behavior
  • Be Informed about How to Report Elder Abuse
  • Learn What Is Considered Abuse in Your State
  • Get Educated about the Effects of Elder Abuse

The following may indicate the presence of signs of elder abuse:

  • Unexplained bruises or serious physical injuries, such as sprains, welts, broken bones, or black eyes Unexplained cuts or calluses in an older person living with someone who has access to their finances
  • Unusual weight loss and malnutrition
  • Presence of poorly maintained personal appearance or poor hygiene
  • A distressed older adult who has not had their usual routine disrupted by a family member or caregiver incarcerated with no explanation given for the absence
  • A senior citizen who is extremely isolated from friends and relatives, especially if they have recently made changes to their estate
  • Large withdrawals of cash by caregivers, adult children, or other family members
  • An older adult who seems fearful when seeing an unfamiliar person
  • A senior citizen who is suddenly awakened in the night when caregivers come to provide care
  • Prolonged periods of unexplained absence by a caregiver, especially if they have prior arrests for criminal behavior
  • Unusual items missing from an older person’s home that would commonly be available such as spare keys, ATM cards, checkbooks, jewelry, or other valuables;
  • Older adults who complain about being watched or followed

After recognizing the signs of elder abuse in an elderly loved one, it is important to act quickly to stop the mistreatment.

Reporting any signs of abuse can prevent serious injury or death for victims who have become dependent on their abusers for care. Reports can be made by calling the local police department or statewide hotline.

Every individual concerned about potential nursing home abuse can discuss what is happening with their local long-term care ombudsman.

Caregiver Stress: What Can Family Members Do?

Staying at home to care for a loved one can be incredibly challenging. Here are some ways to cope with the stress of caregiving:

  • Encourage the senior under your care to maintain their regular schedule as much as possible, including mealtimes, exercise, and sleep
  • Don’t take on more than you can handle
  • Unplug the phone during rest periods and limit visitors during stressful times
  • Take a break from caregiving duties if you are physically or emotionally exhausted
  • Make sure to take time for yourself and your own family
  • Seek out support groups and ask friends and family members for help with caregiving responsibilities
  • Create a list of names, phone numbers, and email addresses of everyone who can offer help so that you can contact them in an emergency
  • If the stress of caring for a senior loved one has become too great, consider hiring a professional caregiver

Family member mistreatment is not acceptable, and it is punishable by law. If you suspect elder abuse or have been affected by this problem, please contact your local police department. There is help available.

Specific Elder Abuse and Neglect Concerns

One in ten Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse? It’s time to act and help stop this problem from getting worse. If you suspect someone might be experiencing elder abuse, it’s important to speak up and get them the help they need before it becomes too late.

Everyone can make a difference through education on signs of elder abuse, what resources are available for victims, and how to report suspected cases!

Physical Elder Abuse

Physical abuse is an assault that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment. Not all physical abuse is detectable. However, bruising, broken bones, burns, and internal injuries are possible indicators.

Other examples of physical neglect include poor hygiene, lack of food or water, or lack of necessary medication. Other signs include:

  • Unexplained bruises or scars
  • Broken bones, black eyes, fractured teeth
  • An older adult who gets frequent injuries from falls
  • Unusual withdrawal due to fear of others
  • An older adult who seems fearful when seeing an unfamiliar person
  • Drugs or medication used inappropriately
  • Neglected hygiene (unwashed hair or clothes, untrimmed nails)
Emotional Elder Abuse

Emotional abuse is the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. Emotionally abused elders often feel depressed and helpless.

Emotional abuse is defined as any behavior that may impair a person’s cognitive health. It may include:

  • Humiliating
  • Intimidating
  • Threatening an older adult with words or gestures
  • Other acts of emotional abuse include isolating someone from friends and family members
  • Giving them ‘the silent treatment’
  • Ruining their reputation
  • Withholding necessities such as food, water, and clothes
Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is a serious problem among older adults in institutional settings. Typically, the sexual abuse includes:

  • Unwanted sexual interaction
  • Non-consensual sexual contact
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Capturing video and photographic images of the elder’s genitals

Many older persons who were sexually assaulted by a health care worker, family caregiver display signs of:

  • Unusual depression
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Unattended medical care
  • Frequent arguments
  • Unexplained withdrawal from family and friends
Neglect or Abandonment

Elder neglect or abandonment is the intentional refusal to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder, with the intent to cause harm, mental anguish, or anxiety. It may include acts such as leaving an older person without food, water, medication, personal hygiene

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is the infliction of anguish, mental pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. This form of abuse may include:

ignoring an older adult’s requests; not allowing them to speak for themselves; withholding affection or emotional support; using either subtle or threatening behavior that results in isolation from others.

Other examples of psychological neglect include:

  • Verbal assaults
  • Treating them like infants or children
  • Not allowing an older adult to make their own decisions

Psychological abuse can also include the threat of deportation for immigrants, regardless of legal status.

Financial Abuse

This form of mistreatment involves illegally or improperly using an older adult’s funds, property, or assets. For example, financial exploitation and abuse may occur when a caregiver takes possession of their elder client’s funds under false pretenses such as stealing money from a bank account, wallet, purse, or credit/debit card.

Elder Self-Abuse

The elderly are a vulnerable population, and this demographic is at risk for self-injury. Elderly self-abuse is often caused by mental illness, physical pain or discomfort, or loneliness. The most common types of self-harm in the elderly include:

Burning oneself with cigarettes or matches.

  • Cutting one’s wrist(s) with a sharp object such as an electric carving knife
  • Making superficial cuts on other parts of the body using scissors or knives
  • Biting oneself until drawing blood and breaking bones
  • Not providing oneself with appropriate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene care
  • Refusing needed prescription medication
  • Neglect of personal safety issues such as a dangerous living situation (e.g., electrical wires exposed)
  • Refusing to eat, bathe, clean one’s teeth, or change clothes for months at a time
  • Not providing oneself with appropriate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene care
  • Refusing needed prescription medication
  • Unsafe driving habits
  • Not wearing a helmet while bicycling

Elder self-neglect is the neglect of personal care and safety. This form of mistreatment is often caused by a physical or mental illness or disability.

A recent study found that 1% of people aged 60 years and older living in local authority care facilities had experienced some form of intentional physical harm to themselves (with 6% reporting non-intentional injury). This research suggests that it might be important.

Dependent Elder Abuse

If you are dependent, elder abuse occurs when older and dependent on others for care do not promptly receive the necessary services. It is based on power or authority over an elderly individual or emotional connection to that person.

The following types of neglect can occur among those who have a dependent relationship:

  • Failure to provide life-saving medication
  • Failure to assist with or schedule necessary medical, psychiatric, or dental care
  • Withholding of food, water, clothing, and shelter
  • Failure to fulfill a specialized role such as help with the activities of daily living (i.e., bathing/grooming) or instrumental activities of daily living (i.e., grocery shopping, paying bills)
Risk Factors for Elder Abuse

Abuse is underreported in the elderly population because some elders are dependent on their abusers and fear retaliation if they report mistreatment. The elderly may also feel that the outcome of reporting abuse will make their situation worse or end their lives prematurely.

Reporting abuse could lead to elder self-neglect, which is sometimes a precursor to others’ abuse, mistreatment, and neglect. Society often does not recognize emotional abuse as violent behavior; therefore, it can be difficult for families and friends of the elderly to identify this form of maltreatment.

Elder Abuse Reporting Laws in the United States

There are no comprehensive federal laws in the United States that specifically address elder abuse. However, coverage of elder abuse is under the law for “elder justice” and functionally under adult protective service and domestic violence laws.

Each state has its reporting laws, which often mirror child maltreatment statutes. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, statutes identify persons required to report suspected elder abuse.

In many states, mandatory reporting is not required if the person with firsthand knowledge is an employee or member of a profession regulated by the state. Usually, these professionals include social workers, physicians, nurses, mental health professionals, and law enforcement officials.

In the remaining states, such as New York State (where this article was written), mandatory reporting is required even when a person has firsthand knowledge gained through employment or membership in a profession regulated by the state.

Preventing Elder Abuse and Neglect

Everyone can prevent elder abuse and self-neglect by fostering healthy relationships between older adults and their families, friends, and caregivers. The following actions can help reduce the risk of elder abuse:

  • Learn the signs of abuse and elder neglect by becoming educated about elder mistreatment
  • Be aware of resources in your area to assist abused elders
  • Seek support for yourself if you recognize any of the warning signs
  • Express your concerns to the older adult in a caring and non-judgmental manner
  • Promote the independence of older adults by encouraging them to make decisions, solve problems, and maintain social connections
Elder Abuse - Know the Warning Signs

In addition to general warning signs such as cuts and bruises in various stages of healing, bedsores, and poor hygiene, elder abuse can also manifest in the following behaviors:

  • Fearful or depressed mood
  • Isolation from other family members and friends
  • Poor physical appearance or personal hygiene
  • Lack of medical care for physical problems
  • Withdrawal from normal activities
  • Unexplained disappearance of money or valuable items which amount to financial abuse
  • Unexplained injuries
Elder Abuse Prevention - What to Do if You Suspect a Problem

If you believe an older adult is being abused, take the following actions:

  • Assess for immediate danger by determining whether there are weapons in the home and whether any abuse has occurred recently. If anything looks suspicious, call law enforcement for assistance.
  • Encourage the older adult to seek medical care if anything has happened or is happening that appears suspicious. Physicians can often recognize signs of elder abuse and self-neglect during a routine exam or test. In addition, the doctor may contact the local Adult Protective Services (APS) on behalf of the patient while maintaining confidentiality.
  • If an older adult cannot give consent due to mental capacity, a family member or guardian can permit medical care. In this situation, the doctor must notify APS and inform them that they are acting with consent from a surrogate decision-maker.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services if you suspect elder abuse or self-neglect in your area (the number should be listed under “government” in the white pages of your phone book). You can also call the Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116) to locate local APS contacts.
  • Talk to the older adult alone, if possible. Let them know you are concerned about some changes they have been exhibiting. Your empathy and concern may give the older adults the courage to talk about their substance abuse situation.
  • Talk with a family member or other caregiver if you suspect abuse is occurring at home. You can express your concerns and ask that person to go for a walk, take a drive, or have coffee so that you can raise your concerns without involving the vulnerable elder.
Long-Term Effect of Abuse

Chronic and acute elder abuse can leave lasting physical and emotional scars that can have a tremendous impact on the mental health of an older adult. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are just some of the symptoms that can arise from elder abuse.

Furthermore, if the abuser is someone upon whom the elder depended for care or support, they may no longer feel safe in their home situation.

  • An abused elder may feel that all their options are limited and become more socially isolated and withdrawn. The following steps can help prevent elder abuse, mistreatment, and self-neglect:
  • Support systems are essential for older adults. Make an effort to find out what kinds of community-based services an older adult is receiving, and then let them know you could be a resource if there is ever a situation that requires assistance.
  • Find out who the important people are in an older adult’s life. Then, talk with the individual and family members to learn about their support networks, such as a church or community groups that could assist if necessary in keeping emotional abuse at bay.
  • Raise awareness in your community by talking with older people you know, friends and family of older adults, social workers, teachers at facilities for senior citizens (e.g., retirement homes, nursing homes), and community service providers (e.g., police officers). By taking these steps, you may prevent senior abuse and help an older adult feel supported. You can also call the national center on elder abuse at 1-202-898-2586.
For More Information About What is Elder Abuse and Where to Get Help

For additional information on elder abuse, mistreatment, and self-neglect, you can contact the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA). NCPEA has regional-based chapters nationwide, and it provides general information about elder abuse issues through its toll-free national hotline: 1-800-677-1116. You may also visit its website at

For immediate help, contact the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging: 1-800-677-1116 or

The Eldercare Locator is staffed Monday through Friday, 9 am to 8 pm EST. In addition, the website provides information about local resources for elders and family members who care for them.

If you are concerned about an elder in your family or community (e.g., because of changes in their physical, mental, or emotional well-being), call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 to find out how local agencies can assist.

The National Center on Elder Abuse is another agency that provides information on elder abuse. You can call the Center at 1-202-898-2586 or visit its website at to file an elder abuse report.

Elder Abuse FAQs

Our law firm understands that many families have unanswered questions concerning holding caregivers accountable for elder physical abuse. A personal injury attorney has answered some of those questions below.

Call our law offices today at (800) 926-7565 for more information.

What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse?

Many older adults have disabilities that make it difficult for them to take care of their daily needs. For example, if you need help with dressing or bathing, would you be able to tell someone if your caregiver refused to provide it?

Some elders cannot speak up for themselves; others are not aware of sexual abuse or emotional abuse because they are isolated from family and friends. And some older adults are too proud to admit that they have suffered physical abuse or neglect.

What is Elder Abuse, And What are The Signs?

Elders who have suffered physical abuse often look frightened, depressed, or frail. They may avoid physical contact with other people, refuse to speak or answer questions, and seem isolated from those around them, even the nursing home staff.

They may:

  • Have unexplained bruises, injuries, or broken bone
  • Be malnourished or dehydrated
  • Require unnecessary drugs that are difficult to stop
  • Talk about physical pain-related sexual abuse
  • Show signs of neglect, such as being forced to live in unsanitary conditions
Who Abuses Older Adults?

Anyone can occasion physical abuse on an older adult, whether a family member, friend, another caregiver hired to provide care in the elder’s home, or someone else. Some people who abuse their older relatives may do so because they have a mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Others may take advantage of an older person’s frail emotional state and physical condition to make them feel uncomfortable, afraid, guilty, confused, dependent, or isolated.

What are The Warning Signs of Financial Abuse and Exploitation?

Warning signs that an older adult is suffering financial abuse include sudden changes in the person’s will and other financial documents, and:

  • Missing money or valuables
  • Unpaid bills for utilities, phone service, medical insurance, medications, etc
  • Sudden change in the older person’s bank account
  • Denied access to bank accounts
  • Not receiving bills or mail
  • Having all of one’s bills paid automatically by another person (e.g., caregiver)
  • Encouragement to buy unnecessary goods or services (e.g., get unnecessary repairs or pay for someone else’s bills)
What can I do if I Think an Older Person is Being Abused?

If you suspect that an older adult is suffering sexual abuse, speak to the person in a private setting. Let them know that you are concerned about them and want to help. If the person appears to be in immediate danger, call 911 or call the national center on elder abuse via 1-202-898-2586

If you are not sure what to do and the person lives in a long-term care facility or assisted living center, contact the institution’s responsible party (e.g., administrator) or the elder abuse hotline for your area.

Was Your Loved One Abused? We Can Help

If your loved one was abused or neglected while residing in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or any other long-term care institution, call our experienced attorneys today. We are available to assist you 24 hours a day.

You may be entitled to compensation for your loved one’s injuries. Click here or call 800-926-7565 for a free consultation with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options.

We collect no fees unless we win compensation on your behalf.

Resources: What is Elder Abuse?

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