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Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse -- the mistreatment or exploitation of senior citizens -- can take many different forms. Instances of elder abuse range from the infliction of physical harm to the use of fraud or coercion to extract financial or material gain from vulnerable seniors. The main types of elder abuse are explained below. See Elder Abuse Overview for more general information and Signs of Elder Abuse for symptoms and warning signs.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse against a senior citizen entails any use of physical force likely to result in injury, physical pain or impairment. Common forms of physical abuse include hitting, striking, beating, pushing, shaking, pinching, kicking, slapping and burning. Other examples of abuse applicable to elderly individuals are force-feeding; excessive use of physical restraints or drugs, if used inappropriately; and holding someone against their will, referred to as false arrest.

Since senior citizens often are frail and easily injured, physical abuse may include seemingly minor acts of physical contact. For example, a tight grip on an elderly person's arm could cause bruising and, if done with intent to harm or control against the individual's will, would be considered physical abuse.

Emotional/Psychological Abuse

Emotional and/or psychological abuse typically is defined as an act that causes emotional pain, distress or anguish. Common forms of emotional/psychological abuse include verbal assaults, intimidation, humiliation, threats, insults, harassment and treating senior citizens like children.

This type of elder abuse usually is verbal, but not always. For example, giving an elderly person the silent treatment or isolating an older person from family and friends are non-verbal forms of emotional/psychological abuse.Emotional and/or psychological abuse sometimes is a byproduct of physical abuse, such as when an elderly person fears his or her abuser.

Sexual Abuse

Any non-consensual sexual contact with an elderly person is considered sexual abuse. Additionally, sexual contact with an elderly person who is incapable of giving consent or who is too confused to fully understand what is happening also is sexual abuse. Common forms of sexual abuse include unwanted touching, sexually explicit photographing, forced nudity, and all types of sexual assault and battery (such as rape and molestation).


Neglect generally refers to a caregiver's failure to fulfill his or her duty to provide the care needed by an elderly person, which applies to individuals as well as nursing homes and other care facilities. Neglect is either active or passive, meaning the caregiver either intentionally withholds care (active) or becomes unable to fulfill his or her responsibilities (passive) for any number of reasons, such as excessive stress or a lack of resources.

Neglect is the failure to provide a dependent senior citizen with life necessities, such as food, clean water, shelter, personal hygiene, clean clothing medicine, safety, basic comfort. Neglect also may contribute to emotional abuse.


Self-neglect is the only category of elderly abuse without a perpetrator. Typically, self-neglect occurs when an elderly person threatens his or her own health or safety by failing to provide himself or herself with adequate hygiene, food, water, medications, shelter or safety precautions. The individual is determined to be a mentally competent older person who nevertheless fails to take care of basic needs.

Self-neglect, which does not involve other parties, is identified as a form of abuse for purposes of referring such cases to adult protective services (APS).

Financial or Material Exploitation

Financial abuse covers a broad spectrum of fraud, confidence (or "con") jobs, outright theft and other methods of extracting financial or material gain from vulnerable senior citizens. Common examples of financial elder abuse include cashing checks without authorization; forging signatures; stealing or misusing money or possessions; coercing or deceiving an elderly person into signing a document; and improperly using a guardianship, conservatorship or power of attorney.

Often the perpetrator of financial elder abuse is an unscrupulous telemarketer, confidence (or "con") artist, or any individual who preys on the weaknesses of senior citizens. For example, elderly persons, who are more likely to own their homes outright, sometimes are tricked into signing over the deed to their home in exchange for a future payoff that never comes.


Abandonment occurs when a designated caretaker or legal guardian leaves an elder person to fend for him or herself. While it includes elements of neglect, abandonment is the total desertion of an elderly person. Common examples of abandonment include leaving an unsuspecting victim at a nursing home or shopping mall, or otherwise turning one's back on his or her supposed responsibilities to care for the victim.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified elder abuse attorney to help you and loved ones recognize and fight elder abuse.

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