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Types of Elder Abuse

Understanding Elder Abuse Types

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According to the National Council on Aging, about one in 10 Americans aged 60 or older have suffered from at least one of the 7 forms of elder abuse identified by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA). Knowing the different forms of elder abuse can help protect older adults from subtler forms of mistreatment.

The 7 Different Forms of Elder Abuse

When someone with power over an elderly person intentionally harms them or puts them at serious risk of harm, their actions — or lack of action — are considered elder abuse.

Although some forms of elder abuse such as physical abuse are usually taken seriously, other forms are harder to identify. According to NCEA, there are 7 main types of elder abuse.

The 7 types of elder abuse are:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • Neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Financial abuse
  • Self-neglect

Regardless of type, elder abuse can have devastating consequences, including great emotional suffering, serious physical injuries, and even death.

It is essential for elders and their loved ones to recognize all forms of abuse to prevent, stop, or, if need be, seek legal justice against those who took advantage of people at their most vulnerable.

Quick Facts About Elder Abuse

  • Elder abuse goes beyond physical and emotional abuse. There are 7 major types, including sexual and financial abuse.
  • Most types of elder abuse are committed by trusted individuals, but elders can mistreat themselves through self-neglect.
  • According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), elders are more likely to self-report financial exploitation than emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect.
  • According to the NCEA, neglect is the most common type of elder abuse.

Physical Elder Abuse

Elder physical abuse is the intentional use of force against an elderly person that leads to physical harm, ranging from physical pain to death.

Some physical signs of abuse include:

  • Broken bones
  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • Dislocated joints
  • Signs of self-treated injuries
  • Sprains
  • Sudden unexplained hair loss
  • Tooth loss

Other warning signs of physical abuse include: 

  • A pattern of hospitalization for the same or similar injuries
  • Delayed medical care for an injury
  • Discomfort from the elder toward a certain individual or individuals
  • Poor explanations for the elder’s injury
  • Trips to different emergency rooms to avoid suspicion
  • Withdrawal from activities or socialization that the elder used to enjoy

Sexual Elder Abuse

Elder sexual abuse is the forced or unwanted sexual interaction of any kind with an older adult. This includes any sexual contact with an elder who has dementia, Alzheimer’s, or another disability that prevents them from consenting to a sexual act.

Warning signs of elder sexual abuse include: 

  • Bleeding from the anus or genitals
  • Bruised genitals or inner thighs
  • New sexually transmitted diseases
  • Pain of the anus or genitals
  • Panic attacks
  • Pelvic injuries
  • Problems walking or sitting
  • Social or emotional withdrawal
  • Suicide attempts
  • Torn, bloody, or stained underwear

Elders can be sexually abused by anyone, including nursing home staff, nursing home residents, in-home caretakers, friends, and family members.

Psychological and Emotional Elder Abuse

Psychological and emotional abuse are intentional acts that inflict mental pain, fear, or distress on an elder.

Psychological and emotional abuse can take the form of:

  • Barring access to resources
  • Humiliation
  • Insults
  • Intimidation
  • Isolation
  • Name-calling
  • Terrorizing
  • Threats

Some signs of emotional and psychological abuse in an elder include: 

  • Appearing depressed or withdrawn
  • Appearing disturbed or scared
  • Attempting to hurt others
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Different eating or sleeping patterns
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings

Elder Neglect

Elder neglect happens when a caregiver fails to protect an elder from harm or meet an elder’s needs in a way that results in or risks serious injury. Neglect is not an honest accident — it is the result of carelessness or a lack of regard for the wellbeing of an elder.

Examples of elder neglect include failure to adequately provide: 

  • Basic daily living activities or shelter
  • Clothing
  • Hygiene upkeep
  • Medical care
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Protection from danger

Unfortunately, the NCEA lists neglect as the most common type of elder abuse. It is a particularly high risk among understaffed nursing homes and overworked caretakers.

Elder Abandonment

Sometimes paired with neglect, elder abandonment happens when someone who assumed care of an elderly person intentionally deserts them.

The former caretaker may leave the elder at a hospital, nursing home, or another care facility without any formal arrangement, or with relatives who did not agree to be caregivers.

Someone may be the victim of elder abandonment if they are alone and:

  • Appear confused, lost, or scared
  • Look lonely or depressed
  • Seem frail, malnourished, or dehydrated
  • Have poor hygiene

Regardless of the situation, elder abandonment can lead to a great deal of confusion and pain for the abandoned elder — and put their physical health at risk.

Financial Elder Abuse

Elder financial abuse is the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older individual’s resources by someone in a trusting relationship with that individual.

Some warning signs of elder financial abuse include: 

  • A pattern of missing belongings or property
  • An elder discussing financial arrangements that have no documentation
  • An elderly person who does not know or understand their own financial situation
  • An individual showing unusual interest in how much money an elder is spending
  • ATM withdrawals the elder could not have made or other unexplained withdrawals
  • Canceled checks or bank statements that go to the perpetrator’s home
  • Eviction notices, evidence of unpaid bills, or utilities being discontinued

According to the MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse, financial abuse costs elders an estimated $2.9 Billion every year. It is the most commonly self-reported type of elder abuse.

Elder Self-Neglect

The final and perhaps most overlooked form of elder abuse is self-neglect. Self-neglect happens when an elderly person is no longer able to meet his or her basic daily needs but does not make arrangements to get those needs met by others.

Elder self-neglect may include an elder’s inability to properly:

  • Get enough nutrition and hydration
  • Dress themselves
  • Maintain basic hygiene
  • Maintain their home
  • Medically care for themselves
  • Manage financial affairs

Signs of elder self-neglect include:

  • Bedsores or skin rashes
  • Dehydration or weight loss
  • Inadequate or unclean clothing
  • Lack of food in the home
  • Lack of needed medical aids
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Poor sleep
  • Unpaid bills
  • Unclean or unsafe home
  • Untreated infections or injuries

Many older adults struggle with letting go of their independence or acknowledging that they may not be as able to care for themselves as they once were.

However, elder self-neglect can be as dangerous to an older adult as forms of elder abuse inflicted by others.

What to Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can be committed by anyone with power over an elder or anyone who gains that elder’s trust. This includes friends, family, care staff, and hired professionals.

If you suspect elder abuse: 

  • Check in with your loved one: Some elders may be hesitant or scared to bring up their abuse experience, but with gentle prompting, they may confide in you.
  • Take accusations seriously: Too many people neglect to believe elders when they tell loved ones about their abuse. Seriously look into any abuse that a loved one tells you about.
  • Keep in regular contact with your loved one: Elders who are socially isolated are more at risk for abuse.
  • Use available resources: If you suspect a case of elder neglect, self-neglect, or abandonment contact a local Adult Protective Services (APS) office, long-term care nursing home ombudsman, or the police.
  • If it’s an emergency, call 911: If you are worried that an elder is in immediate danger, call the police or 911.

If Your Loved One Has Been Abused, We Can Help

Discovering that someone you love is the victim of abuse can be devastating, especially when they are harmed by someone they trusted.

Although there is no way to reverse the suffering elder abuse causes, seeking compensation through a nursing home abuse lawsuit or an individual suit can help a victim’s recovery and increase their quality of life moving forward.

Compensation can help with: 

  • Medical costs
  • Mental health costs
  • Replacing funds and assets
  • Paying for new care
  • Holding individuals and caretaking facilities accountable

If your loved one has been abused or neglected, seek the justice and compensation they deserve. Start your free case review today.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

View 5 Sources
  1. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Types of Abuse. Retrieved November 13, 2019, from
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, May 28). Elder Abuse: Definitions. Retrieved November 13, 2019, from
  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2014, September 11). How do I report elder abuse or abuse of an older person or senior? Retrieved November 13, 2019, from
  4. MetLife Mature Market Institute. (June 2011). The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse: Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America’s Elders [PDF file]. Retrieved November 13, 2019, from
  5. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). How to Answer Those Tough Questions about Elder Abuse [PDF file]. Retrieved November 13, 2019, from
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