Legal Guide

The 7 Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can happen anywhere – in a nursing home, a long-term care facility or even at home. It can occur at the hands of a beloved family member, a friend, or a caregiver. About one in ten people over the age of sixty have experienced some form of elder abuse, and an estimated one to two million Americans over the age of 65 have experienced elder abuse or neglect by the same people they trusted to care for them and keep them safe. 

Elder abuse is victimizing people at their most vulnerable stage of life. Elders, especially those at long-term care facilities, do not always have the ability or avenue to report their dangerous situation to the authorities. They also may not report out of fear of the perpetrator, simply not knowing who to talk to, or having a disability or condition that restricts them from getting the help they need. As a result, elder abuse remains highly underreported.

The best way to prevent elder abuse is through awareness and action. If you are a family member, friend, relative or neighbor of an elderly person, familiarize yourself with the signs of elder abuse. Understand what signs of elder abuse look like so that when they show up, you can report the abuse and immediately help the elderly person get to safety. 

The seven types of elder abuse include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial exploitation, and self-neglect. 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when physical force or an act of violence – such as hitting or shoving – causes someone injury or pain. Force-feeding and inappropriate use of drugs are also examples of physical abuse. Signs of physical abuse can include bruises on the body, cuts, open wounds, bone fractures, sprains, dislocations, bleeding, untreated injuries, and broken glasses. Other signs may include a sudden change in behavior. Physical abuse can often cause a person to fear for his or her safety.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any unwanted or non-consensual contact. Sexual contact with someone who is unable to give consent is also considered sexual abuse. Examples of sexual abuse can include touching, sexual assault, rape, forced nudity or any other type of inappropriate or unwanted behavior. Signs of sexual abuse may include bruises or bleeding in the private areas of the body, unexplained inflections, and undergarments that are stained, torn, or bloody. Remember that if someone has experienced sexual abuse, he or she may not be ready to talk – or may be afraid to speak up. Often, victims of sexual abuse don’t report what happened because they worry that no one will believe them, or they feel ashamed to say anything. They also could be relying on the abuser for care and basic needs. It is important to make sure a person who has experienced sexual abuse feels supported. Create a safe space for them to talk, and listen to them.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse is causing someone pain or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. Examples of emotional or psychological abuse can range from threats and intimidation to verbal assaults and humiliation to giving someone the “silent treatment.” Isolating an elderly person from his or her friends or family can also be a form of emotional or psychological abuse. Signs of emotional or psychological abuse can include: a lack of communication or responsiveness, social and emotional withdrawal, and troubled behavior (that could be linked to dementia). With emotional or psychological abuse, it is especially important to pay attention to the spaces in between – to what a person isn’t doing or saying anymore. 

While physical abuse is easily identifiable, emotional or psychological abuse may not be. A person with this type of abuse is hurting just as much, but with scars that are invisible to the eye. Keep in mind that an elderly person who has experienced emotional or psychological abuse may have low self-esteem, show signs of depression, closed-off body language, and have suicidal thoughts. All of that contributes to them suffering in silence. It is important to remind people with emotional or psychological abuse that the abuse isn’t their fault, their situation can change, and they deserve a better life.


Neglect is when a person fails or refuses to complete his or her obligation or duty. In this case, neglect is when a caregiver has taken on the responsibility to take care of an elderly person and fails to do so. Signs of neglect include poor personal hygiene, dehydration, malnutrition, untreated bed sores, health problems that haven’t been treated or attended to, dangerous living conditions and an overall unsanitary or unclean environment.


Abandonment is when a person who has a responsibility to take care of an elderly person, leaves. Signs of abandonment may include deserting an elderly person at a public location such as the mall or the grocery store, or an institution such as a hospital or nursing facility.

Financial Exploitation

Financial or material exploitation is taking advantage of an elderly person’s finances (assets, property, or other funds) and misusing them. Examples of financial or material exploitation can include cashing an elderly person’s check without permission or authorization, deceiving an elderly person into signing a document or contract, or misusing an elderly person’s possessions or money. Signs of financial or material exploitation may include large sums of money suddenly withdrawn without explanation, valuable possessions disappearing without explanation, sudden changes in a will, and forging of an elderly person’s signature on documents.


Self-neglect is when an elderly person threatens his or her own safety and behaves in a way that is self-destructive. Signs of self-neglect may include dehydration, malnutrition, not paying attention to any medical issues, poor personal hygiene, unsafe living conditions, a lack of medical necessities, and a lack of proper housing or clothing.

What Can I Do?

If you suspect that someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, get that person to safety first. Then, contact the police, a local Adult Protective Services office, or Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

By reporting the abuse, you are helping the elderly person get the help he or she needs while making sure the perpetuator doesn’t cause additional harm to others. Keep looking out for signs of elderly abuse and educating others. Check in with your elderly loved ones or patients often and keep reminding them that they matter. Make sure they know they are not alone and that they have someone they can talk to if anything happens.

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