Elder Abuse - Topic Overview
Elder abuse refers to any of several forms of maltreatment of an
older person by a caregiver, family member, spouse, or friend.
Categories of elder abuse
The 1987 Amendment to
the Older Americans Act identified three separate categories of elder abuse:
- Domestic elder abuse
usually takes place in the older adult's home or in the home of the caregiver.
The abuser is often a relative, close friend, or paid
- Institutional abuse refers to
abuse that takes place in a residential home (such as a nursing home), foster
home, or assisted-living facility. The abuser has a financial or contractual
obligation to care for the older adult.
- Self-neglect is behavior of an older adult that threatens his
or her own health or safety. Self-neglect is present when an older adult
refuses or fails to provide himself or herself with adequate food, water,
clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medicine, and safety precautions.
Acts of elder abuse
Elder abuse can
- Acts of violence, such as hitting, beating,
pushing, shoving, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, or burning.
The inappropriate use of medicines or physical restraints, force-feeding, and
physical punishment of any kind also are examples of physical
- Forced sexual contact or sexual contact with any person
incapable of giving consent. It includes unwanted touching and all types of
sexual assault or battery, such as rape, sodomy, forced nudity, and sexually
- Emotional or psychological abuse, such as
name-calling, insults, threats, intimidation, humiliation, and harassment.
Treating an older person like a baby, giving an older person the "silent
treatment," and isolating him or her from family, friends, or regular
activities are examples of emotional or psychological
- Neglect, such as failing to provide an older person with
food, clothing, personal shelter, or other essentials, such as medical care or
medicines. Neglect can also include failing to pay nursing home or
assisted-living facility costs for an older person if you have a legal
responsibility to do so.
- Abandonment or desertion of an older
person by a person who has the physical or legal responsibility for providing
- Illegal or improper use of an older person's funds, property,
or assets. This includes forging an older person's signature, stealing money or
possessions, or tricking an older person into signing documents that transfer
funds, property, or assets.
Risk factors for elder abuse
Abuse of elders is a
complex problem with many contributing factors. Risk factors include:
- Domestic violence carried over into the elder
years. A substantial number of elder abuse cases are abuse by a
- Personal problems of caregivers. People who abuse older
adults (particularly their adult children) are often dependent on the older
person for financial help and other support. This is often due to
personal problems such as mental illness or other dysfunctional personality
traits. The risk of elder abuse seems highest when these adult children live
with the older person.
- Social isolation. Caregivers and family
members who live with an older person have the opportunity to abuse and often
attempt to isolate the older person from others to prevent the abuse from being