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Elder Abuse 101: Know These 5 Types, Common Signs, & Risk Factors

Sadly, over 5 million older adults suffer elder abuse each year. Unless the signs of abuse are obvious, it can be difficult for outside parties to recognize it. Worse still, the victim may be too afraid to speak out against their abuser. It’s important to be vigilant and learn to spot signs of elder abuse. These guidelines will help you do just that!


Types of Elder Abuse & Signs

Physical abuse

According to the American Psychological Association, physical abuse is the intentional use of force against an elderly victim. Types of physical elder abuse may include:

  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Pinching
  • Biting
  • Restraining with ropes or chains
  • Burning
  • Physical punishment of any kind

Signs and symptoms of physical abuse may include but are not limited to:

  • Bruises
  • Black eyes
  • Unexplained cuts or lacerations
  • Fractured or broken bones
  • Sprains or dislocations

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is any sort of maltreatment that affects a senior’s emotional or psychological well-being. It may take the form of verbal abuse or insults, as well. Common types of emotional abuse may include:

  • Yelling
  • Making threats
  • Swearing
  • Name-calling
  • Making insulting comments
  • Belittling
  • Coercion

Signs and symptoms of emotional abuse may include but are not limited to:

  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Sudden changes in behavior or personality
  • Eye contact avoidance
  • Appetite changes
  • Mood swings

Sexual abuse

Unfortunately, elders are also susceptible to sexual abuse. This describes any form of non-consensual sexual activity. Some forms of sexual abuse may include:

  • Unwanted touching
  • Taking inappropriate photographs
  • Behaving in a sexualized manner toward the senior
  • Sexual assault or battery

Some signs and symptoms of elder sexual abuse include but are not limited to:

  • Unexplained bruises, especially around the genitals
  • Pelvic injuries
  • Trouble walking or sitting


According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, neglect is defined as “the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder.” This can refer to physical needs or financial responsibilities (i.e. forgetting to make a payment on behalf of a senior). Neglect may include:

  • Soiled bedding or furniture
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Poor hygiene
  • Bed sores
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition

Financial Abuse or Exploitation

Sadly, caregivers or family members may attempt to exploit older adults for personal profit. Financial abuse may include:

  • Using an elder’s cash or credit cards without permission
  • Transferring funds from an elder’s bank account to one’s personal account
  • Stealing an elder’s money or belongings
  • Selling valuables without an elder’s permission

Signs of financial abuse may include but are not limited to:

  • Notice of unpaid bills
  • Large withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Unauthorized change of address on bank statements
  • Changes to bank accounts (such as adding a secondary party as an owner)
  • Canceled checks

Risk Factors

Elder abuse is no respecter of persons. It can happen to any older adult, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, and gender. Disconcertingly, elder abuse can occur in the most trusted places: hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or even one’s home. While elder abuse can affect a wide range of older adults, there are certain risk factors that may make one more susceptible to maltreatment. Common risk factors may include:

  • Being home-bound
  • Isolation
  • Poor physical health
  • Being older than 80
  • Mental health issues or conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s
  • Depression
  • Physical disabilities
  • Lack of a support system

How to Prevent Elder Abuse

Sadly, one out of six adults over 60 have suffered abuse in the United States alone. While these statistics are devastating, there’s good news. We can work together to prevent elder abuse. Here are a few ways you can do just that:

  • Listen to older adults and take their concerns seriously.
  • Look for signs of maltreatment or neglect (i.e. soiled bedsheets, odd charges on monthly bank statements, bruises, or lacerations).
  • Help seniors stay connected and engaged in their local community.
  • Visit lonely or isolated elders often.

You must report elder abuse to prevent it. If you or somebody you know is in immediate danger, call 911. If the victim is not in immediate danger, but there are signs of abuse, notify Adult Protective Services.

Originally published April 26, 2023

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