Elderly Abuse By Family Members

Elder abuse means to deliberately harm or endanger the wellbeing of an older adult. More than half of elder abuse is committed by family members, and most of these abusers are the victim’s children or partners. Protect your loved ones by learning the signs of an abusive familial relationship and the resources available to report elder abuse.

Lindsey Crossmier, writer for RetireGuide
Fact Checked
Fact Checked

Our fact-checking process starts with vetting all sources to ensure they are authoritative and relevant. Then we verify the facts with original reports published by those sources, or we confirm the facts with qualified experts. For full transparency, we clearly identify our sources in a list at the bottom of each page.

Cite Us
How to Cite RetireGuide.com's Article

APA Crossmier, L. (2022, August 2). Elderly Abuse By Family Members. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/types-of-elderly-abuse/family-abuse/

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

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

Why Do Family Members Commit Elder Abuse?

Family members typically abuse their elders due to a combination of multigenerational trauma, anger, resentment and easy accessibility. Abuse is more likely to occur if the family member and older adult live with one another or if the abuser has a history of mental illness or substance abuse.

Traits are learned and passed down in families. As a child, if you learned the proper response to negative emotions is hitting or yelling, then you will likely have the same response as an adult. According to data from the National Center on Elder Abuse, roughly 50% of abusers had an early history of childhood violence. If you have suffered abuse from your guardian as a child, you’re more likely to abuse them as an adult.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being an unpaid caretaker of a family member can cause a multitude or negative health consequences, including stress, depression, degrading health and a compromised immune system. Providing unpaid care can result in the family member resenting or loathing the older adult, which could lead to abuse.

Some older couples have unhealthy and toxic relationships. This can worsen with age and lead to the stronger partner abusing the weaker, which may open the door to other types of elder abuse.

Family members may also abuse their elders due to accessibility. For example, if the family member is constantly providing free care in the elder’s home, then they may steal valuables. This makes the older adult at risk of financial elder abuse.

Did you know?
Family members were abusers in:

  • 62% of financial abuse cases
  • 35% of emotional abuse cases
  • 20% of elder neglect cases
  • 12% of physical abuse cases
  • 0.3% of sexual abuse cases

Although older adults are susceptible to all types of elder abuse, financial and emotional abuse were most common among family members.

If you don’t want one of your family members to be responsible for your care as you age, then you should properly plan for retirement and the type of care you wish to receive.

However, not everyone has the savings to afford skilled care during retirement, making family members sometimes the only option as caregivers. But this does not mean any older adult should endure elder abuse.

Keep an eye out for signs of elder abuse from family members. If you report the abuse, then government programs can help move the older adult to a safe location.

Signs of Elder Abuse by Family Members

There are general signs of elder abuse, such as appearing unkempt, malnourished, dehydrated or injured. The emotional signs of elder abuse are just as important and include depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. There are also signs that are specific to familial elder abuse.

Signs of Elder Abuse from Family Members
  • Tension or constant arguing with the family member
  • Stops going to family events or reaching out to other loved ones
  • Flinches or shuts down in presence of family member
  • Missing walking aids or medications
  • Exterior door locks on the bedroom door
  • Complaints of missing funds or items
  • Unexplained bruising or injuries on the older adult
  • Bed sores
  • Overly medicated behavior

Elder Abuse from Third-Party Caregivers

A third-party caregiver could be a nurse who visits your home or a staff member at an assisted living facility or nursing home. While family members are typically the abusers in elder abuse cases, it doesn’t mean third-party caregivers aren’t capable of doing the same.

According to the World Health Organization, 64.2% of staff members at a nursing home or long-term facility admitted to abusing residents in the past year. The most common type of abuse was emotional abuse.

To avoid abuse from third-party caregivers, be sure to check credentials and references from the company or facility in charge of your care. If you’ve endured any type of abuse or suspect a loved one is suffering from abuse, then you should report it.

How to Prove and Report Elder Abuse

Elder abuse has been notoriously underreported due to lack of resources. Just in 2017, the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act was enacted to identify the need for more data regarding elder abuse. There are several stages to elder abuse cases, including prosecution and trauma recovery.

Any form of abuse can be difficult to prove, but it is especially difficult in elder abuse cases. This is because the abusers typically target those with memory impairments or someone who heavily relies on the abuser. Several strategies can help you prove elder abuse and get justice.

Strategies to Help Prove Elder Abuse
Have evidence and documentation of abuse.
Take photos of the abuse, keep related documents and try to have witnesses to prove the case.
Get as much information on the abuser as possible.
Get the abuser’s name and relationship to the victim. Confirm if they are a guardian or have the power of attorney.
Be prepared to counter common defenses.
Many family members use the fact that elders bruise easily to cover up physical abuse cases. Others use memory issues to cover up other forms of abuse, such as claiming a victim who suffers from dementia didn’t remember giving the abuser large sums of money. You should have defenses readily available to fight these claims.
Confirm that the victim is ready to report the abuser
Many older adult victims heavily rely on their abuser, since it’s typically a family member. Make sure you are on board to prosecute the abuser.

If you have already started building a case and are preparing to prosecute the abuser, the Bureau of Justice Assistance has a Prosecuting Elder Abuser Tools PDF that offers more legal information.

If you still need to report the abuse, there are multiple resources available to do so. You can contact the nationwide hotline, the Eldercare Locator, by telephone at 1-800-677-1116.

If you want to report elder abuse to your state’s adult protective services, then you can reference the National Adult Protective Services Association’s program list. This resource can also be beneficial to those who want to learn more about their state’s elder laws.

Last Modified: August 2, 2022

6 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. U.S. Department of Justice. (2021, August 30). EAPPA Data Overview. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/eappa-data-overview
  3. 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
  4. Keck School of Medicine of USC. (2019, August 15). Study: Financial Abuse of Older Adults by Family Members More Common Than Scams by Strangers. Retrieved from https://keck.usc.edu/study-financial-abuse-of-older-adults-by-family-members-more-common-than-scams-by-strangers/
  5. Kohn, R. & et al. (2011, February). Caregiving and Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4961478/#:~:text=Risk%20Factors%20Associated%20with%20Perpetration&text=Being%20a%20caregiver%20of%20an,be%20as%20high%20as%2011.9%25
  6. 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