Types of Elderly Abuse

There are six types of elder abuse — physical, sexual, financial, emotional, neglect and confinement. These types of abuse can lead to severe injuries and long-term physiological consequences for many older adults. Learn how to recognize the signs and report each type of abuse to protect your loved ones.

Lindsey Crossmier, writer for RetireGuide
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APA Crossmier, L. (2022, August 2). Types of Elderly Abuse. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/types-of-elderly-abuse/

MLA Crossmier, Lindsey. "Types of Elderly Abuse." RetireGuide.com, 2 Aug 2022, https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/types-of-elderly-abuse/.

Chicago Crossmier, Lindsey. "Types of Elderly Abuse." RetireGuide.com. Last modified August 2, 2022. https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/types-of-elderly-abuse/.

What Are the Types of Elder Abuse?

The six types of elder abuse are a prevalent issue, with abuse cases estimated to increase due to the rapid growth of the elder population. Older adults who endure elder abuse typically don’t experience just one type of abuse; the victims will likely experience multiple of the six types simultaneously.

For example, some abusers threaten or hit to manipulate or frighten older adults into giving them money. This is a combination between physical, emotional and financial elder abuse.

The 6 Types of Elder Abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Elder neglect and deprivation
  • Confinement

Differentiating the signs of each type of elder abuse, and learning how to report them, will help protect older adults at risk.

Physical Elder Abuse

Elder physical abuse includes, but is not limited to, purposeful shoving, hitting, beating, pushing, slapping or burning. Other forms of physical abuse are applying force where it is not necessary, such as restraining a loved one or force-feeding them.

According to the National Institute of Justice, the child of the older adult is commonly the abuser in physical abuse cases.

Signs of Physical Elder Abuse

Remember that signs of physical abuse and emotional abuse typically coexist in one victim. Being purposefully hit or beaten will take an emotional toll. If you notice signs of physical abuse on your loved one, it’s best to check their mental health as well and get treatment if needed.

Signs of Physical Abuse
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises or lacerations
  • Head injuries
  • Broken or fractured bones
  • Appearing overly medicated
  • Malnourished
  • Acting frightened or flinching around family members or a caretaker

Sexual Elder Abuse

Sexual elder abuse is any form of non-consensual sexual contact or behavior with an older adult. This includes forcing an older adult to watch sexual acts, rape and sexual threats.

Even if there is no unwanted touching involved, sexual harassment is still considered abuse and should be taken seriously.

Signs of Sexual Elder Abuse

Sexual elder abuse is the least reported type of elder abuse. This is mostly due to the feelings of shame that come with being violated. That’s why it’s important to be able to identify the signs of sexual abuse.

Signs of Sexual Abuse
  • Developing unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
  • Rips in clothing or undergarments
  • Bruises in genital or breast area
  • Having issues walking or sitting

Financial Elder Abuse

Financial elder abuse typically refers to stealing or mishandling an older adult’s money or property. Although elder abuse by family members is the most common, strangers running telemarketing or internet scams have also been known to financially abuse elders.

Manipulating the older adult to change legal documents in the abuser’s favor, such as a will, is also financial elder abuse.

Seniors are a common target for financial abuse since they tend to have ample funds for retirement.

Did you know?
The nationwide loss from elder financial abuse is roughly $36.50 billion a year.

Signs of Financial Elder Abuse

Most of the people who are targeted for financial elder abuse have memory issues or lack trustworthy financial advisors. It is key to have a trusted family member or professional financial advisor overlook your finances and identify any signs of financial abuse.

Signs of Financial Abuse
  • Unpaid bills
  • Missing expensive items or checkbook
  • Unexplained large sums of money missing
  • Suspicious changes to legal documents
  • Fraudulent signatures

Emotional Elder Abuse

Even though emotional abuse doesn’t always leave a mark, it is just as serious as physical abuse. No one should endure emotional abuse, especially from a family member or caretaker.

Examples of emotional abuse include verbal assaults, insults, threats or harassment. Older adults suffering from dementia have roughly an 80% chance of suffering from emotional abuse, according to a journal article from JSTOR.

Signs of Emotional Elder Abuse

The reg flags for emotional abuse can range in severity. A minor sign is the older adult losing interest in previously loved activities. Other signs may include having suicidal thoughts and acting on them.

Each sign of emotional abuse, minor or severe, should be taken seriously. Minor red flags can quickly turn severe, endangering your loved one’s life and mental wellbeing.

Signs of Emotional Abuse
  • Withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities
  • Isolating from loved ones
  • Sudden dramatic behavior changes
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Elder Neglect and Deprivation

Examples of elder neglect and deprivation include not being provided food, water or proper shelter from a loved one or caregiver. Withholding medication is also a form of deprivation.

Neglect or deprivation can happen at home or nursing homes. According to the World Health Organization, rates of elder neglect abuse are higher in nursing homes and long-term care facilities compared to those who age in place.

Signs of Elder Neglect and Deprivation

Neglect and deprivation can be a single or repeated act. Even if the neglect is an accident — like constantly forgetting to provide the older adult with medication — it still counts as abuse.

Any signs of elder neglect or deprivation should be taken seriously and reported. If necessary, there are emergency services to relocate the older adult into a safe location.

Signs of Neglect and Deprivation
  • Missing hearing aids, medications or assistive devices
  • Dehydration or malnourishment
  • Unsafe and dirty living conditions
  • Poor hygiene
  • Unwashed clothes
  • Worsening health conditions

Elder Confinement

Confinement is keeping an older adult trapped within one space for long periods of time without social interaction. In some ways, it can be like abandonment.

In these cases, the caretaker or family member typically keep the older adult locked away with little to no assistance. One may confine the older adult out of pettiness, while others may have more malicious intentions. Being confined for too long can threaten the victim’s life.

Signs of Elder Confinement

Confining and isolating an older adult is unacceptable. Social interaction is a key stimulus for good mental health. The abuser may lock the victim in their room or remove mobility aids, like a wheelchair, to keep the older adult confined.

Signs of Confinement
  • Bed sores
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Restraint bruises around wrists
  • Mental illnesses, like anxiety or depression
  • No longer reaches out to loved ones
  • Poor hygiene
  • Unawareness to well-known news

Reporting the Different Types of Elder Abuse

If you or a loved one is in a dangerous or life-threatening situation, dial 911 immediately. If you wish to learn how to report elder abuse, there are other resources available.

There is not a specific hotline for each type of elder abuse. All six types of abuse can be reported through nationwide options or state-specific resources.

Nationwide Reporting
The National Elder Fraud Hotline
Dial 833-373-8311
The Eldercare Locator
Dial 1-800-677-1116
State Specific Reporting
National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA)
NAPSA has a program list with each state’s phone number and email to report elder abuse
National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)
The NCEA has an interactive map providing each state’s elder abuse hotline, government agency, state elder laws and statistics.
Last Modified: August 2, 2022

5 Cited Research Articles

  1. World Health Organization. (2022, June 13). Abuse of Older People. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/abuse-of-older-people
  2. National Council on Aging. (2021, February 23). Get the Facts on Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/get-the-facts-on-elder-abuse
  3. Yan, E. & Fang, B. (2016). Abuse of Older Persons with Dementia: A Review of the Literature. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26638190
  4. National Institute of Justice. (2013, January 6). Causes and Characteristics of Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/causes-and-characteristics-elder-abuse
  5. Office for Victims of Crime. (n.d.). National Elder Fraud Hotline. Retrieved from https://ovc.ojp.gov/program/stop-elder-fraud/providing-help-restoring-hope