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Breaking Down the Seven Types of Elder Abuse

By Julie Hayes | 12/15/2021

One in 10 Americans age 60 and older are the victims of elder abuse

Caregivers play an important role in protecting not just a loved one’s health, but their overall safety and wellness as well. According to the National Council on Aging, one in 10 Americans age 60 and older are the victims of elder abuse, but only around one in every 24 cases of abuse is reported. 

In cases when a loved one is unable or even unwilling to report, caregivers may be the person in the best position to get help. However, it can be hard to identify the problem if we are unfamiliar with the types of actions that qualify as abuse. Here are the seven types of elder abuse identified by the National Center on Elder Abuse:

Physical abuse

Physical elder abuse happens when someone uses physical force against an older adult, such as by: 

  • Hitting
  • Slapping
  • Kicking
  • Burning
  • Excessively shaking
  • Violently restraining
  • Force-feeding

Physical abuse can result in pain, injury and impairment, and in severe cases may even be fatal. 
Physical abuse is often perpetrated by someone close to a loved one, like a spouse, child or friend, and can also happen in care settings like residential homes and even senior centers. We should be on the lookout for unexplained injuries or bruises. If there is a pattern to the timing and location of a loved one’s injuries, that may indicate they are being abused by someone on a repeated basis.

Sexual abuse

Sexual elder abuse happens when someone has nonconsensual sexual contact with an older adult. Sexual abuse typically involves direct physical acts, but can also include indirect actions, like taking and distributing sexual photos of an older adult against their will.

It is important to note that if an older adult is confused, disoriented, unable to understand or is suffering from cognitive impairment due to medication or a chronic condition, they are not capable of giving consent.

Emotional or psychological abuse

Emotional elder abuse happens when someone acts or speaks in such a way that gives an older adult emotional distress or pain. This can include:

  • Harassment
  • Intimidation
  • Humiliation
  • Belittling
  • Threats
  • Use of slurs or discriminatory language
  • Gaslighting

Emotional abuse can also occur nonverbally, such as through deliberately ignoring or giving ‘the silent treatment.’

Some perpetrators try to excuse being verbally abusive to someone with dementia because they believe the person with dementia won’t be able to remember. However, emotional abuse can have a profound impact even on people with cognitive impairment. They may not remember exactly what was said, but they can often remember how it made them feel, which can lead them to withdraw, become depressed or develop feelings of fear towards the perpetrator.

Financial abuse

Financial elder abuse occurs when someone attempts to defraud an older adult, such as through:

  • Theft
  • Scams
  • Mishandling their money
  • Withholding financial resources 
  • Improperly using the authority given by power of attorney

This kind of abuse can be perpetrated by people a loved one knows and trusts, but can also be perpetrated by professional scammers and total strangers.

We should keep an eye on a loved one’s financial transactions and bills, and document any items and cash that go missing from their home. We may also want to look into tips to help a loved one avoid robocalls or internet scams, as these are becoming increasingly common.


Elder neglect happens when someone in a position of responsibility or care for an older adult fails to meet their essential needs, resulting in harm. These essential needs include:

  • Hygiene
  • Food, water and shelter
  • Clothing
  • Access to medical care

Caregivers are key in preventing neglect. Seeing to a loved one’s basic needs is essential to caregiving. If we are unable to help provide these needs on a short-term basis, we should enlist in the help of someone who can, like a friend, family member or service provider. If we cannot meet these needs in the long-term, it may be time to consider if we need to step back from our role.


Self-neglect is a type of elder abuse without an outside perpetrator. It happens when an older adult neglects their own basic needs without the help of someone to fulfill the need for them.
It may seem impossible for self-neglect to happen when there is a caregiver present, but this is actually not the case. An older adult who denies their caregiver the ability to help or misleads them about a situation where they need help may be self-neglecting.


Elder abandonment happens when someone in a position of responsibility or care for an older adult deserts them, such as by leaving them at a hospital or public location without intending to return for them.

Reporting elder abuse

If the situation is urgent, such as a loved being physically harmed or injured, we need to call emergency services immediately. If a loved one is not in immediate danger, we can instead make a report to Adult Protective Services (APS). We can visit the National Adult Protective Services Association website to find state-by-state information.

Some of us may even be mandated reporters of elder abuse. A mandated reporter is anyone in a role that is legally required to report suspected elder abuse, such as doctors, financial planners, social workers, senior center staff or home-delivered meal drivers. If you're a mandated reporter and would like to know more about your responsibilities and how to accurately identify the warning signs of elder abuse, look into Benjamin Rose's mandated reporter training.

There are additional resources we can use if we suspect a loved one is the victim of financial abuse. If they have fallen prey to a scam, we can get in touch with the Federal Trade Commission, or contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center if it occurred online. If a loved one is being financially abused by someone they know, or their power of attorney agent is abusing authority, we can reach out to an elder law attorney or our local prosecutor’s office.

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Protecting A Loved One From Self-Neglect

Recognizing the Risks and Red Flags of Elder Abuse

Recognizing the Signs of Financial Abuse