Elder abuse is the neglect or abuse of an older person. Older adults are more vulnerable to abuse for a number of reasons. Because of their age, they may be more socially isolated or mentally impaired. There is also evidence suggesting that family and caregivers cause some abuse of the elderly.

Abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, religion, or ethnic background. Hundreds of thousands of adults over the age of 60 are abused, neglected, and financially exploited every year.

Abuse happens in many places, including the elder’s home, a family member’s home, an assisted living facility, or a nursing home. The mistreatment of elders may come from family members, strangers, health care providers, caregivers, or friends.

What Kinds of Elder Abuse Are There?

The abuse can be physical or mental, and definitions of elder abuse may vary from state to state. Such abuse generally includes:

  • Physical Abuse: Physical abuse happens when someone causes bodily harm by hitting, slapping, or kicking. Physical abuse may include restraining an older adult against their will, such as locking them in a room.
  • Emotional Abuse: Emotional and psychological abuse can include saying hurtful words, yelling, threatening, or repeatedly ignoring an older adult. Keeping an older adult from seeing close friends and relatives is another form of emotional abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse involves a caregiver forcing an older adult to watch or participate in sexual acts against their will.
  • Exploitation: Exploitation may include taking advantage of an older person for financial gain or revenge.
  • Neglect: Neglect occurs when a caregiver does not respond to an older adult’s physical, emotional, or social needs. This may include withholding food, medications, or access to health care.
  • Abandonment: Abandonment is leaving an older adult who needs help alone without planning for their health care.
  • Financial Abuse: Financial abuse happens when money or belongings are stolen from an older adult. Financial abuse may include forging checks, taking someone’s retirement or Social Security benefits, or using their credit cards or bank account without their permission. Changing names on a will, bank account, life insurance policy, or title to a house without permission is financial abuse and also illegal.

Many states include financial exploitation under elder abuse. Neglect is the most common type of abuse.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is a widespread and hard-to-detect issue. A total stranger can steal financial information by using the internet or email. Be careful about sharing any financial information over the phone or online, as you don’t know who will use it.

Financial abuse includes the theft of an older person’s money or belongings.

Financial neglect occurs when an older adult’s financial responsibilities, such as rent, mortgages, medical expenses, insurance, utility bills, or property taxes are left unpaid.

Financial exploitation is the misuse, mismanagement, or exploitation of property, belongings, or assets. Using an older adult’s assets without consent, under false pretense, or through intimidation is exploitation.

Doctors can commit health care fraud, hospital staff, or other health care employees. Health care fraud includes overcharging, billing twice for the same services, falsifying Medicaid or Medicare claims, or charging for care that wasn’t provided. Older adults and caregivers should be concerned about this type of fraud.

Who Is Commonly Abused?

Most victims of abuse are women, but some are men. Older adults who have no family or friends nearby are likely targets of abuse.

People with disabilities, memory problems or dementia may also be targeted and abused.

What Are the Warning Signs of Elder Abuse?

There are many potential warning signs of elder abuse, including:

  • Unexplained bruises, marks, broken bones, etc.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities or depression
  • Sudden changes in a financial situation
  • Looks messy, has unwashed hair or dirty clothes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dramatic weight loss for no reason
  • Withdrawn or agitated behavior
  • Displays signs of trauma, like rocking back and forth
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames/other physical signs of punishment or being restrained
  • Lacks medical aid (glasses, walker, dentures, hearing aid, medications)
  • Has an eviction notice for unpaid rent or late mortgage
  • Hazardous, unsafe, or unclean living conditions
  • Indicators of possible neglect (i.e., bedsores)
  • Strained or tense relationships

These signs may not appear at first or all at once. Instead, these are warnings that long-term care abuse may be taking place. If you see signs of abuse, try speaking with the older adult to find out what’s going on. Abuse may be coming from another resident instead of someone who works at the nursing home or assisted living facility. Get help or report what you see to adult protective services. You do not need to prove that abuse occurs because professionals will investigate.

Who Can Stop Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse will not stop on its own. In most cases, someone needs to step in and help. Many adults are too ashamed or don’t know how to report mistreatment. The abused may feel afraid to make a report out of fear that it will get back to their abuser and worsen the situation.

If you think you know someone who is being physically, emotionally, or financially abused, talk with them when you are alone. Express that you believe something is wrong and you’re concerned. Offer to take them to get help, for instance, with the local police or an adult protective services agency.

Listen to older adults and their caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support. Use the National Center on Elder Abuse Listing of State Elder Abuse Hotlines to find your state’s reporting numbers, government agencies, state laws, and other resources.

Many local, state and national social service agencies help with emotional, legal, and financial abuse.

Most states require that doctors and lawyers report elder mistreatment when they see it. Family and friends can also report elder abuse.

The Administration for Community Living has a National Center for Elder Abuse. Call the Eldercare Locator during weekdays at 800-677-1116 to learn how to report abuse, where to get help, and state laws dealing with abuse and neglect.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Abuse?

Physical wounds heal, but elder abuse can lead to early death, harm to physical and psychological health, destroy social and family ties, and cause devastating financial loss.

Elder abuse can have serious physical and emotional effects on an older adult. Victims may become fearful and anxious. They may develop problems with trust and be wary of others. Many of the abused suffer physical injuries, like cuts, scratches, welts, or bruises. Other injuries can be serious and cause permanent disabilities. Head injuries and broken bones can cause constant physical pain and soreness. Physical injuries can also lead to premature death and worsen existing health problems.

Any type of mistreatment can leave an abused person feeling fearful or depressed. Sometimes, a victim thinks the abuse is their fault. Adult protective service agencies offer support groups and counseling to help abused persons heal their emotional wounds.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with an Elder Abuse Case?

If you or someone you love is a victim of elder abuse, you should strongly consider contacting an experienced elder law lawyer. A personal injury lawyer can help you get that person out of danger and sue the abuser for damages. You should also contact the police if the older person is in danger.