What Is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is more common than you might think. Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person. Unfortunately, elder abuse continues to increase and is a serious problem in our society. There are variations in the definition of elder abuse, and because there is no reporting system in place, it is difficult to determine the scope of this issue. In general, elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or any entity that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.

Laws and definitions of terms defining elder abuse vary considerably from one state to another; however, legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws. Many elderly adults are abused in their own homes, in relatives’ homes, and even in facilities responsible for their care. As elders become physically frail, they are less likely to stand up to bullying and/or fight back if attacked.

There are several characteristics of elder abuse, some involving intimidation or threats against the elderly, some involving neglect, and others involving financial chicanery. The most common are defined below.

  • Physical abuse is non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that results in physical pain, injury or impairment.
  • Emotional abuse, sometimes called psychological abuse, can include a caregiver saying hurtful words, yelling, threatening or repeatedly ignoring the older person. Keeping the person from seeing close friends and relatives is another form of emotional abuse.
  • Neglect occurs when the caregiver does not try to respond to the older person’s needs.
  • Abandonment is leaving a senior alone without planning for his or her care.
  • Self-neglect and behaviors that threaten the elder’s health or safety. They may appear increasingly disheveled, lack of basic personal hygiene, or their home may become dirty and un-kept.

Elder abuse is a devastating reality for many older Americans, and unfortunately, it often goes unreported. If you or someone you know is being abused by a family member, a health-care provider or caregiver, don’t be afraid to speak up to someone you feel you can trust, who can assist you in putting an end to the abuse.


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