What Is Elder Abuse? - Definition & Statistics

Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This article examines the types of elder abuse as well as the warning signs. In addition, statistics are provided as to what types are most common and how prevalent the abuse is. Lastly, instructions are given if you suspect elder abuse.

Elder Abuse

Not every topic is fun. In fact, sometimes the most important things can be the most uncomfortable ones to discuss.

Elder abuse is any type or combination of the following types of mistreatment committed by a person to whom a dependent or vulnerable elder has a relationship with or by a person in a residential facility or under contractual obligation for care:

  • Physical: injury, pain, or depriving of basic needs
  • Emotional: mental pain, anguish, or distress using verbal or nonverbal means
  • Sexual: non-consensual sexual contact of any kind, or coercing an elder to witness sexual behaviors
  • Exploitation: illegal taking, misusing, or concealing funds, property, or assets
  • Neglect: refusal or failure to provide food, shelter, or health care
  • Abandonment: desertion of an elder by anyone who assumes responsibility for care or custody

Not every form of abuse will leave a mark.

A vulnerable elder is a person who, due to mental or physical impairment, is unable to be fully independent. In addition, the laws typically identify any person as 65 and older as elderly, qualifying them for protection under the laws. Federal definitions and guidelines began in 1987 with amendments to the Older Americans Act, but statutes and regulations are defined at the state level.

Warning Signs

There is no absolute sign or indicator of abuse; however, suspicious bruising, pressure marks, broken bones, or burns are a strong indicator of abuse, neglect, or mistreatment. In addition, unexplained withdrawal from activities elderly persons may have once enjoyed or participated in, a sudden change in alertness, or an unusual depression may indicate emotional or physical abuse. Sudden and unforeseen issues with finances may be a result of exploitation. Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, or unusual weight loss may indicate neglect.

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