Why Does Elder Abuse Occur? (+5 Common Forms)

TRIGGER WARNING: Abuse, sexual assault

Definition of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is an intentional demonstration of harm or neglect by a guardian or another person toward an elder adult.

An elder adult, in this article, is defined as someone aged 60 or older.

Forms of elder abuse 

Physical Abuse: the intentional utilization of physical force that results in intense or interminable sickness, substantial injury, physical torment, debilitation, misery, or death.

Physical abuse may include, but isn’t limited to, brutal acts, striking (with or without a weapon), hitting, beating, scratching, gnawing, gagging, suffocation, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, squeezing, and biting.

Sexual Abuse or Abusive Sexual Contact: this is defined as forced or undesirable sexual interactions with an elder adult (either contact or non-contact advances).

This could include non-consensual sexual intercourse, groping or fondling.

These actions also qualify as sexual abuse in the event that they are done to an elder adult who is unable to provide their informed consent.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse: verbal or nonverbal behavior that manifests itself in the form of anguish, mental torment, dread, or pain.

This can include name-calling, putting someone down, undermining them or attempting to control or restrict their access to other people or resources. 

Neglect: failure by an individual to shield an elderly person from hurt, or the failure to take care of them.

This can be blocking them from nourishment, hydration, cleanliness, apparel, and essential daily activities.

If someone is living in a home, this can also look like preventing an elderly person from being able to wear clean clothes, take care of their hygiene or have access to fundamental resources. 

Financial Abuse or Exploitation: the unlawful, unauthorized, or inappropriate utilization of an older person’s assets by a guardian or another individual in the elder person’s life might look like preventing the elder person from accessing their own resources.

This includes denying an older person legitimate access to, information about, or utilization of, personal funds, assets or resources.

Individuals may attempt forgery, burglary or stealing in order to take advantage of an older adult with financial resources. 

Why does elder abuse happen? 

Elder abuse happens in light of the fact that the abuser possesses some form of control over the older person.

Abuse may also be connected to the abuser having: 

  • A substance abuse issue
  • A history of violent behavior
  • Financial problems
  • Emotional disturbances

Abuse is more prone to happen when someone is going through a stressful time.

Caring for an older person carries its own set of stresses, which may make someone more likely to abuse them.

The abuser may also prevent other people from speaking to the older person that they’re abusing.

They may also cut off this person from their family members, friends and organizations that offer help.

In some cases, elder abuse is demonstrated by other family members.

Signs of Elder Abuse 

The signs of elder abuse can vary from case to case, and some older adults may experience more than one type of elder abuse.

Since elder abuse can affect a parent, grandparent, or different family members, it is essential to know the notice signs for each type.

Below is a breakdown of signs to watch for in detecting elder abuse.

Physical Signs of Elder Abuse

In some cases, physical abuse is one of the most common types of elder abuse.

Signs of physical abuse may include:

  • Broken bones 
  • Bruises or welts 
  • Burns
  • Cuts and scratches 
  • Head wounds and black eyes
  • Weight imprints or bruises 

Friends and family ought to look out for their older relatives and determine if something is indeed a source of physical injury.

Sometimes, guardians or nursing home staff can detect that someone is a victim of elder abuse by learning that someone forced the older adult to conceal their wounds.

In 2018, a Colorado woman was admitted to a hospital for profound cuts, bruises, and broken bones.

The nursing home at first claimed that the lady injured herself with a coat hanger.

It later became evident that a staff member had been abusing this woman and was later sentenced to 12 years in prison. 

Signs of Sexual Abuse 

Some seniors who are not operating at full mental or physical capacity may be unable to provide consent to sexual relations.

When an older adult is sexually abused, this can have a significant impact on both their physical and emotional well being.

Friends and family members should look out for these possible warning signs of sexual abuse: 

  • An unexplained sexually transmitted infection (STI)
    Bruises on genitalia or thighs
  • Discomfort around the genitalia
  • An inappropriate relationship between a guardian and an older adult

Signs of Emotional Abuse 

While it may not leave physical scars, emotional abuse can be just as harmful to an older adult’s health and wellbeing.

Emotional abuse can include shouting at, undermining and manipulating an older adult.

If you suspect someone is undergoing elder abuse, it’s important to look out for the following signs:

  • Being reluctant to talk to others
  • Withdrawing from social engagements
  • Making up stories about how a physical injury happened
  • Demonstrating anxiety, anger or dread

Signs of Financial Abuse 

In contrast to different types of abuse, financial abuse can go unnoticed in light of the fact that the senior’s physical and emotional health won’t be as obviously damaged.

However, financial abuse can leave older adults unfit to bear the cost of even the most fundamental health care needs. 

Basic signs of financial abuse include: 

  • Large amounts of money missing from bank accounts
  • The older adult can’t access their financial records
  • The older adult gives someone money in exchange for friendship
  • Unusual transactions between two individuals

A financial advisor or expert should be sure to keep a close eye on an older adult’s finances.

If a senior citizen cannot keep track of or explain how they lost a large some of money, then it’s possible that they’re a victim of financial abuse.

Risk factors for elder abuse include: 

  • Age: Adults over 80 years old are more likely to experience elder abuse, according to a 2014 study conducted by Northwestern University and Rush University specialists. 
  • Guardian: A guardian who lives with the elder, relies upon them for financial help, has a substance misuse issue, or has a criminal record may be more likely to carry out abuse. 
  • Sexual orientation: The 2014 Chicago study found that older women were more likely to suffer from elder abuse. Women may likewise suffer from more serious sorts of abuse over longer timeframes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 
  • Health: This incorporates poor physical health and psychological wellness issues, for example, dementia. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), about half of those with dementia suffer from elder abuse and neglect. 
  • Disengagement: According to a 2015 report from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), almost 13 million more older individuals in the U.S. lived alone. Elders who live without anyone else or who are isolated may be at risk of abuse, according to the NCOA.

FAQs on Elder Abuse:

How many people suffer from elder abuse? 

Roughly 1 out of 10 Americans aged 60 or older have encountered some type of elder abuse.

A few analyses run as high as 5 million elders who are abused every year. 

Who abuses older adults?

Anyone can abuse an older adult.

In practically 60% of elder abuse and neglect cases, the culprit is a family member. 66% of that figure includes young adults. 

What makes an older adult powerless against abuse? 

Social separation and conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease make it difficult for older adults to defend themselves.

Almost 50% of individuals with dementia are abused or neglected. are two elements.. 

What are the effects of elder abuse? 

Older adults who have been abused have a much higher danger of death when contrasted with individuals who have not been abused.

While likely under-reported, evaluations of elder financial abuse and neglect related expenses to older Americans run from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion every year.

However, financial abuse is self-reported at rates higher than emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect. 

Are there criminal penalties for the abusers?

How does an individual make an elder abuse report? 

Most states have penalties for individuals who abuse older adults. 

Elder equity laws, insights, and other state assets assembled by the NCEA to ensure that these adults are protected in the event of abuse.

If you think an older adult is in imminent danger, call 911.

Any individual who thinks an older adult might be undergoing abuse should contact their neighborhood Adult Protective Services office, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or police.

The NCEA depicts different situations and approaches to getting help for older adults who are being abused, and more data is accessible from the Eldercare Locator on the web or by calling 1-800-677-1116. 

How can elder abuse be prevented?

Educating seniors, professionals, caregivers, and the public on abuse is critical to prevention.

If you’re an older adult, you can stay safe by:

– Looking for assistance in obtaining medication from a trustworthy resource

– Learning if there’s a history of aggressive behavior at a nursing home

– Preparing for your own future with a living will and power of attorney

– Staying in touch with your family members and friends. 

– Using direct deposit for any checks

– Having your own telephone

– Not giving out your personal information by phone or text

– Opening and sending your own mail, if possible

– Knowing your rights

Interested in Learning More? Check out these books on elder abuse:



Administration on Aging, Administration for Community Living, & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015).

A Profile of Older Americans: 2015. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/Aging and Disability in America/2015-Profile.pdf.

American Psychological Association. (2012). Elder Abuse & Neglect: In Search of Solutions. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.apa.org/pi/aging/elder-abuse.pdf.

Butzer, S. (2019, August 28). Caregiver sentenced to prison for abusing elderly women. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/caregiver-sentenced-to-12-years-in-prison-for-abusing-elderly-patients-at-arvada-facility.

Dong, X. Q., & Simon, M. A. (2014, January). Vulnerability risk index profile for elder abuse in a community-dwelling.

Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4155408/.

Elderly Alzheimer’s patient beaten at Arvada assisted living community; caregiver facing arrest. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DVx7y9KMDw&t=1s.

Institute of Medicine. (2013, April). Elder Abuse and Its Prevention. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.nap.edu/read/18518/chapter/4#19.

National Council on Aging. (2018, June 15). Elder Abuse Statistics & Facts: Elder Justice. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/.

National Institute on Aging. (n.d.). Elder Abuse. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse#signs.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!