Types of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse refers to any intentional act or failure to act that could potentially cause harm to an adult aged 60 or older. Generally, the abuser is a caregiver or other trusted individual providing care or support for the victim.
Victims of elder abuse may be unaware of what’s happening to them. Family members and those who do understand the different types of elder abuse can watch for the signs of abuse or neglect and take steps to protect themselves and those they love.
Facts About Elder Abuse
Elder abuse may be more common than you think—consider the following facts:
- Some experts estimate that 10% of people 65 and older experience elder abuse every year.
- Elder abuse victims are three times more likely to die within a decade than those who haven’t been abused.
- There’s a 1:24 ratio of reported-unreported cases of elder abuse. For cases of neglect in people 60 and older, there’s a 1:58 ratio of reported to unreported cases.
- Elder abuse cases have increased since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In one study, researchers suggested that rates of elder abuse in communities may have increased by as much as 84% during this period.
- Between 2002 and 2016, more than 643,000 older adults were treated in the emergency department for nonfatal assaults, and over 19,000 homicides occurred.
Don’t expect elder abuse to disappear on its own. Those who understand the problem are well-equipped to address it and can teach others about the different types of elder abuse.
Seven Common Types of Elder Abuse
There are seven types of elder abuse.
1. Physical Abuse
Physical abuse involves any form of violence or physical harm that injures an older adult. Examples of physical elder abuse include:
Physical abuse has been reported by 1.6% of elders in the United States. Individuals are more likely to physically abuse an older adult if they:
- Are dealing with a mental illness
- Are financially dependent on the adult
- Have a criminal history
- Abuse drugs, alcohol, and/or other substances
- Have previously experienced abuse
Physical abuse is one of the most underreported forms of elder abuse. It’s difficult for an older adult who experiences physical abuse to come forward and report their abuser to the proper authorities.
To combat physical abuse, it’s important to watch for signs that it’s happening. A victim may display any of the following physical symptoms:
- Broken bones
- Tooth or hair loss
- Dislocated joints
A physical abuse victim may hesitate or change their story frequently when asked about their physical symptoms. In addition, a victim of physical abuse may feel increasingly concerned about their appearance. At this point, the victim may withdraw from social activities that previously brought joy and happiness to their life.
2. Psychological or Emotional Elder Abuse
A psychological or emotional elder abuse victim doesn’t necessarily experience physical injuries. Rather, the victim experiences attacks on their psychological and emotional health, and the attacks impact the victim’s overall well-being. These psychological attacks can cause the victim to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
There are several forms of physical or emotional elder abuse:
- Verbal: An abuser bullies, harasses, or yells at a victim.
- Psychological torment: An abuser blames a victim for problems or uses threats for psychological manipulation.
- Isolation: An abuser isolates a victim from family members, friends, and social events.
Certain seniors are more susceptible to psychological or emotional abuse than others, including older adults who:
- Have gone through a divorce or separation
- Are dealing with physical or mental impairments
- Live in low-income housing
Reasons why people psychologically or emotionally abuse a senior include:
- Difficulty controlling their mood and emotions
- Feelings of anger or resentment toward the adult
- Poor relationship with the adult
Common signs of psychological or emotional abuse in older adults include:
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of eye contact
Victims who are emotionally abused display distinct behaviors when their abuser is present. . For example, the victim can appear hesitant or distracted if their abuser is nearby.
Reporting any signs of emotional or psychological elder abuse is key. Authorities take every report of elder abuse seriously. By reporting possible abuse, authorities can conduct an investigation and work with the victim to ensure they no longer have to deal with someone who is psychologically or emotionally abusive.
3. Sexual Elder Abuse
Sexual elder abuse occurs when an individual has non-consensual sexual contact with an older adult. The abuser sexually engages with the adult without their consent or against the victim’s will.
A sexual elder abuse victim may be dealing with mental or physical ailments that prevent the individual from stopping the abuse. The victim may also trust the person who engages in the sexual misconduct. In this instance, the victim may feel scared and unable to stop the sexual abuse from occurring.
Those coping with elder sexual abuse can display any of the following physical symptoms:
- Pelvic injury
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Bruises on the genitals and inner thighs
- Genital irritation and pain
Sexual elder abuse can cause psychological and emotional damage. Seniors may be less inclined to make eye contact if they’re victims of sexual abuse. Also, they may shy away from social activities and avoid family members and friends.
Both men and women can be victims of elder sexual abuse, though some research suggests that women are more likely to experience elder sexual abuse than men. Perpetrators of nursing home abuse include family members, nursing home staff members, and others who gain their victims’ trust.
4. Financial Abuse
An abuser can take control of a senior’s finances and use their credit cards or steal funds from the adult’s bank, retirement, and other financial accounts. These actions can leave the abuse victim in financial ruin.
Financial abuse can also occur if an abuser steals an older adult’s valuables. Additionally, an abuser can take over a senior’s power of attorney to gain full control over the individual’s finances.
Older adults coping with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can be more susceptible to financial abuse than others. These adults can be less likely than others to understand the immediate and long-lasting impact of their financial decisions. Abusers may target seniors dealing with these conditions. They can gain the adults’ trust and exploit them for financial gain.
Seniors who are lonely may also be prone to financial abuse. Abusers can find older adults in search of companionship and friendship. These older adults may be willing to suffer financial abuse in exchange for having someone to spend time with.
A person who financially abuses a senior may:
- Be dealing with significant debt, gambling problems, or substance abuse
- Feel entitled to the senior’s inheritance
- Be willing to do whatever is necessary to prevent other family members from getting the senior’s inheritance
There are many tactics that people will use to financially abuse older adults, including:
- Telling seniors they’ve won sweepstakes
- Claiming they’re a relative who needs money
- Indicating they’re bank examiners, contractors, or other business professionals
Elder financial abuse can involve fraud, loss of property, and altered wills and trusts.
Older adults must be cautious when sharing their financial information. Seniors should never share their Social Security number, bank account information, or other sensitive data with anyone they don’t know.
If seniors share financial information with others, they must do so carefully. For instance, older adults can consult with a licensed and certified financial planner who can help them manage their finances. They can also consult with a lawyer who can help them establish a will and trust.
5. Elder Neglect
A caretaker can ignore a senior’s needs for an extended period of time, leaving the older adult without the appropriate care. The adult may feel tired, hungry, and dehydrated or anxious, depressed, stressed, and worried.
Elder neglect comes in three forms: physical, emotional, and financial.
Physical neglect occurs when a caretaker neglects a senior’s needs in any of the following areas:
Emotional elder neglect happens when a caretaker ignores a senior’s emotional pain or belittles or threatens an elder, resulting in emotional distress or angst. The neglect can cause the older adult’s emotional suffering to escalate, resulting in anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Financial elder neglect occurs when a caretaker doesn’t take appropriate actions to handle a senior’s finances. The caretaker may ignore paying the elder’s bills on time, causing financial issues for the older adult.
6. Elder Abandonment
A caretaker can abandon an elder and leave the individual to handle their own care. Doing so can be dangerous because a senior may lack the physical and mental abilities to care for themselves.
It’s a caretaker’s responsibility to do their best to adequately and appropriately care for a senior. If the caretaker is unable to do so, they must find a suitable replacement. The caretaker must also provide their replacement with sufficient training, ensuring they can provide the same level of care until the original caretaker can return to their duties.
7. Elder Self-Neglect
A senior can ignore their health, allowing it to deteriorate. In this instance, the older adult is neglecting their personal needs, and the longer the adult continues to do so, the more likely it is that health problems will occur. If self-neglect is ongoing, the results can be fatal for an older adult.
Self-neglect can occur with or without an older adult knowing it’s happening.
For example, a senior with Alzheimer’s disease might forget to take their medications. Seniors with dementia often neglect their own care, because they are unable to manage it due to their condition. When this type of self-neglect occurs, the senior may require a caregiver or a residential facility to take care of them.
Older adults who are experiencing physical or emotional pain may not even be able to recognize the severity of their condition, and may give up on finding ways to manage their pain. This can lead to unnecessary and preventable suffering.
There are many signs of senior self-neglect, including:
- Inadequate plumbing, heating, and other home amenities
- Failure to cash checks
- Spending money recklessly
- Refusing to let guests visit their residence
Seniors may struggle to realize they’re dealing with self-neglect. If you notice a family member, friend, or another familiar older adult displaying signs of self-neglect, share your concerns and try to help them receive sufficient care.
What to Do if You Suspect Elder Abuse
If you suspect any signs of physical, emotional, neglect and even sexual elder abuse at a nursing home, record details of signs and patterns and report them to the administration. Elder abuse is a serious claim. If you report elder abuse to nursing home administrators, they will review the allegations and get in contact with anyone involved. The administrators will do their part to address any elder abuse issues. If these issues continue, reach out to your state office of the Administration on Aging. You may also be able to take advantage of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which works with nursing homes to identify and address elder abuse.
Adult Protective Services (APS) can be a valuable resource if you suspect elder abuse. APS can respond to any concerns and questions you have regarding elder abuse. If you need to report elder abuse or neglect, APS makes it easy to do so.
The National Center on Elder Abuse provides a listing of state elder abuse hotlines. Also, you can call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for help. If elder abuse appears to be an imminent threat for a senior, call 911 immediately.
Finally, if you’re suffering mistreatment, or you suspect your loved one is experiencing elder abuse or neglect at a nursing home or other long-term care facility, contact a knowledgeable nursing home attorney to review your case and see if you or your loved one is eligible to receive compensation for injuries, wrongful death, and other losses.