Elder Abuse

There are six main types of elder abuse, all of which can cause serious repercussions to the wellbeing of your loved ones. While there are protective elder abuse laws in every state, learning the signs of abuse, prevention tactics and how to report abuse can help you ensure safety for older Americans at risk.

  • Written by
    Lindsey Crossmier

    Lindsey Crossmier

    Financial Writer

    Lindsey Crossmier is an accomplished writer with experience working for The Florida Review and Bookstar PR. As a financial writer, she covers Medicare, life insurance and dental insurance topics for RetireGuide. Research-based data drives her work.

    Read More
  • Edited By
    Savannah Pittle
    Savannah Pittle, senior financial editor for RetireGuide

    Savannah Pittle

    Senior Financial Editor

    Savannah Pittle is a professional writer and content editor with over 16 years of professional experience across multiple industries. She has ghostwritten for entrepreneurs and industry leaders and been published in mediums such as The Huffington Post, Southern Living and Interior Appeal Magazine.

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  • Reviewed By Bart Astor
  • Published: July 5, 2022
  • Updated: May 23, 2023
  • 6 min read time
  • This page features 6 Cited Research Articles
Fact Checked
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A qualified expert reviewed the content on this page to ensure it is factually accurate, meets current industry standards and helps readers achieve a better understanding of retirement topics.

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How to Cite RetireGuide.com's Article

APA Crossmier, L. (2023, May 23). Elder Abuse. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved July 10, 2024, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-safety/elder-abuse/

MLA Crossmier, Lindsey. "Elder Abuse." RetireGuide.com, 23 May 2023, https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-safety/elder-abuse/.

Chicago Crossmier, Lindsey. "Elder Abuse." RetireGuide.com. Last modified May 23, 2023. https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-safety/elder-abuse/.

What Is Elder Abuse?

The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, which causes harm or distress to an older person. Unfortunately, elder abuse is common. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, at least one in 10 older adults experienced some form of abuse in the last year.

The Six Types of Elder Abuse
Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse includes verbal assault, insults, threats or harassment. Inflicting emotional pain or distress can cause mental health crises, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, or lead to self-harm.
Financial Exploitation
Financial abuse and exploitation involves stealing or mishandling an older adult’s money or property. This includes coercing or scamming someone into signing a document — like a will — and abusing the power of attorney or guardianship rights.
Physical Abuse
Physical abuse includes but is not limited to purposeful shoving, hitting, beating, pushing, slapping or burning.
Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is unwanted touching or sexual assault upon an older adult.
Confinement involves keeping an older adult trapped within one space for long periods of time without social interaction. Here, the caretaker or family member will keep the older adult locked away with little to no help.
Neglect and Deprivation
Neglect and deprivation involves not being provided food, water or proper shelter from a loved one or caregiver. Having medication withheld is also a form of deprivation.

Your safety and health should be a priority during your retirement years. These types of elder abuse can happen at home, or in a facility setting, like a nursing home. Understanding and recognizing each type of abuse — and how common they are — can help you keep yourself and others around you safe.

Elder abuse call 911

If you’re not currently in an emergency ‌but wish to report elder abuse or receive more information and education on the matter, the National Center on Elder Abuse provides a list of state resources with non-emergency hotline numbers.

If you believe that you or a loved one is a victim of elder abuse, it’s important to report the incident to the proper authorities.

What Are the Signs Someone Is Being Abused?

Whether from neglectful, emotional, financial or sexual abuse, there are key signs that an older adult is being abused.

Financial abuse is often the easiest to spot by checking through bank records, regularly checking finances and keeping important documents safe and secure.

The other signs and symptoms of elder abuse can be more difficult to determine. Observing your loved one’s physical appearance and emotional state can best tell you if they might be experiencing abuse.

Common Symptoms of Emotional and Physical Abuse
Symptoms of Emotional AbuseSymptoms of Emotional Abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Non-responsive behavior
  • Presence of bedsores or other preventable conditions
  • Poor hygiene
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
  • Recent cuts, burns or bruises

The signs of physical and emotional abuse can coexist in the same individual. For example, if someone is experiencing physical abuse, they may also become anxious and depressed. Therefore, it’s important to recognize many signs of abuse and regard them each seriously.

Recognizing Abusive Environments

Abuse can happen in almost any environment — whether seniors live alone, with a caregiver or in a long-term care facility. But family members and caregivers should know the many warning signs of elder abuse.

Lesser Known Signs of Elder Abuse
  • Becomes withdrawn or acts agitated or aggressive
  • Broken eyeglasses or other signs of punishment or being restrained
  • Displays insufficient care of unpaid bills despite financial resources
  • Lacks necessary medical aids like eyeglasses, walkers or dentures
  • Looks messy or has unwashed clothes
  • Receives an eviction notice
  • Rocks back and forth or displays other signs of trauma
  • Stops taking part in favorite activities
  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss
  • Has trouble sleeping
  • Visibly unsafe or unclean living conditions

Who Is Most Likely To Abuse an Elder?

Family members are the most likely to abuse an elder. The National Council on Aging found that family members account for six out of 10 elder abuse cases. In 60% of physical abuse cases, the abuser is the elder’s partner.

Faculty in a nursing home or other retirement housing option with care services are the next most likely to abuse an elder. This category includes in-home caregivers as well.

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How Can You Prevent Elder Abuse?

There are several prevention tactics to deter potential abuse and protect your loved ones. Two of the top ways to prevent elder abuse are to avoid low-rated nursing homes and avoid untrustworthy family members.

According to a World Health Organization study, one out of three nursing home staff members confirmed that they emotionally abused residents. Of respondents, 64% of nurses admitted to neglecting residents on purpose. With these concerning statistics in mind, ‌always tour the nursing home and speak to residents before moving your loved one into a care facility.

If a family member is looking after your loved one, ‌check up on them regularly to deter elder abuse. This will allow you to keep an eye out for signs of abuse while providing companionship.

If you ever see any questionable behavior or signs of physical abuse, ‌report it right away after speaking with your loved one.

How Do You Report Elder Abuse?

If you are in imminent or life-threatening danger, ‌dial 911.

If you need to report non-life threatening elder abuse, each state has a different hotline. The National Center on Elder Abuse has a state resource tool outlining individual hotlines for abuse, state government agency information and laws regarding elder abuse for all 50 states.

For each elder abuse incident reported, 24 cases remain unreported. This is mostly due to fear of retaliation, more neglect or embarrassment. Some abusers specifically target those with memory issues, meaning reporting abuse may be impossible. Therefore, it is important to stay vigilant and keep the signs of abuse in mind to protect those in need.

Elder Abuse Resources

There are many tools and resources available to educate against and help combat elder abuse. The previously mentioned National Center on Elder Abuse state resource tool link in the section directly above provides resources specifically created for each individual state. Most of these resources offer assistance for physical or sexual abuse victims.

For circumstances of financial abuse, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers tools and resources specifically to protect seniors against fraud.

Last Modified: May 23, 2023

6 Cited Research Articles

  1. National Institute on Aging. (2022). Spotting the Signs of Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/infographics/spotting-signs-elder-abuse
  2. Nursing Home Abuse Justice. (n.d.). Nursing Home Abuse Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.nursinghomeabuse.org/nursing-home-abuse/statistics/
  3. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Research, Statistics, and Data. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/What-We-Do/Research/Statistics-and-Data.aspx
  4. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Signs of Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/NCEA/media/publications/NCEA_SignsEA_508.pdf
  5. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). State Resources. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/Resources/State.aspx
  6. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (n.d.). Working With Older Adults. Retrieved from https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/educator-tools/resources-for-older-adults/