What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse refers to the intentional harming of a vulnerable adult, whether it is a senior citizen or disabled person. This could be through intentionally inflicting pain (physical or emotional), neglect (self-imposed or caregiver related), or as a result of financial exploitation. Elder abuse causes serious risk and harm.

All 50 states have laws preventing elder abuse.

Are there different types of elder abuse?

Elder abuse can take many forms, including:

  • Physical abuse: The intentional inflicting of pain or injury, such as restraining, hitting or slapping.
  • Sexual abuse: Forced sexual contact.
  • Neglect: One of the more common forms of elder abuse, neglect is the failure of caregivers to provide food, shelter, health care, medicine or other care. Self-neglect – the inability to take care of oneself physically or mentally – is also considered elder abuse in some states.
  • Exploitation/financial abuse: Illegally taking, misusing, stealing or concealing the money or property of a senior or disabled person. This can include convincing or coercing a vulnerable person to “give” away their assets.
  • Emotional abuse: Includes isolating the individual, verbally harassing or berating him or her, and humiliating, intimidating or threatening the person in care.
  • Abandonment: When a person who has assumed care of a vulnerable elder deserts that person.

How common is elder abuse?

In the United States, recent estimates suggest 1 in 10 persons age 60 or older experience one form of elder abuse/mistreatment each year, with some experiencing more than one form. Prior government estimates stated that at least 500,000 adults are abused each year in the United States through elder abuse – this is likely underestimated.

Who is at risk for elder abuse?

Elder abuse can take place anywhere – at home, in a nursing home, or hospital or senior center. It affects all seniors, regardless of race, gender, culture or socio-economic background.

The most at risk to be abused are isolated seniors and disabled persons who have little or no family or support network to notice when abuse might be taking place.

Women are more likely to be abused, as are individuals with dementia who may not recognize abuse or be able to report it.

“Older” seniors are also more at risk for elder abuse.

Who commits elder abuse?

Elder abuse is most often committed by those closest to a vulnerable adult, including caregivers who are friends or family. It can also be committed by employees of nursing homes, hospitals and other care centers. It is committed by both men and women.

What are the warning signs of elder abuse?

There are several warning signs of elder abuse. These include:

  • Frequent bruises, burns and broken bones that cannot be explained
  • An individual isolating himself or herself or withdrawing from usual activities
  • Bruises around the genitals or signs of infection
  • Depression
  • Unexplained changes in an individual’s financial situation or inability to purchase or obtain basic health and living needs (food, medicine, utilities, etc.)
  • Bedsores, poor hygiene, unexplained weight loss, worsening control of medical problems (such as high blood pressure, heart failure and diabetes, often resulting in frequent visits to the emergency department or hospitalization) and other signs of neglect

What can I do if I suspect elder abuse?

If you suspect an individual is in immediate danger, or feel you are in danger, you should seek immediate help from your local law enforcement.

If abuse is suspected, you should contact Adult Protective Services to report your concerns and they will open a case. You do not need to be completely certain that abuse is taking place in order to make a report – all that is required is suspicion that there may be abuse taking place. Reporting is confidential, and as long as a report is made “in good faith,” the reporter is free from any liability.

A doctor or regular healthcare provider can also help by examining a person and providing guidance on a plan of care.

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