Types Of Elder Abuse: What Should I Be Looking For?

Updated January 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Elderly people are vulnerable to various types of abuse, including emotional abuse and neglect.

If you suspect that an elderly person you know is being abused in any way, there are steps you can take to get it stopped right away so that they can live out the rest of their days feeling loved and well cared for.

If you or a loved one is living through any type of domestic abuse, you can get help and resources immediately by dialing 800.799.SAFE (7233) or visiting thehotline.org.

Are You A Survivor Of Elder Abuse?

During the later years, many elderly people may lose their ability to speak out, defend themselves, or recognize abuse either because of physical or mental impairments. However, while they may not be able to verbalize that they’re feeling neglected or abused, it doesn’t mean they’re not affected.

Abuse can also occur in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Generally speaking, elder abuse usually occurs through contact with a trusted adult. Elderly people can even hurt themselves by neglecting their own care, such as not taking their medications, not tending to their hygiene, diet, or exercise regimes, and not following up with their physician appointments.

Regardless of who is responsible for the abuse or why it’s happening, learning more about the various types of elder abuse and how you can best address it can be essential.

Identifying The 7 Different Forms Of Elder Abuse

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) reports that there are seven different kinds of elder abuse, including:

  1. Physical abuse

  2. Sexual abuse

  3. Psychological or emotional abuse

  4. Neglect

  5. Abandonment

  6. Financial abuse

  7. Self-neglect

Elder abuse occurs when someone harms an elderly person or wields power over them, placing them at serious risk of harm. The abuse of elderly people can cause debilitating suffering, physical injuries, and sometimes death. The NCEA also states that neglect is the most common type of elder abuse.

  1. Physical Elder Abuse

Physical abuse against elderly people occurs when someone uses intentional force against an elder that causes physical harm to them. The abuse may hurt them or even cause death. If you visit a loved one and find evidence of broken bones, sprains, bruises, burns, or dislocated joints, the elder may be a survivor of elder abuse, especially if there are repeated incidences. It’s common for elderly people to lose their hair as they age but look for signs that someone has pulled their hair out. Tooth loss is also common among senior adults when it occurs naturally, but if there are signs of hits or slaps to the face, teeth may fall out due to abuse.

If you or someone else is being abused, in addition to physical signs, look for patterns of the same type of injuries or repeated hospitalizations for similar injuries. Pay attention to whether the injury explanation makes sense and whether the injury was attended to right away. For example, if the senior has been taken to different emergency rooms after being injured, it could be a sign that they’re being physically abused and the perpetrator is trying not to get caught.

Survivors of physical abuse may show signs of discomfort or fear around certain individuals, which can signify elder abuse. In addition, they may withdraw from activities or not want to socialize if they’re being physically abused.

  1. Sexual Abuse

Various illnesses and disabilities may prevent elderly people from consenting to sexual acts. Any forced or unwanted sexual actions or interactions with another adult constitute sexual abuse. People living with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other disabilities may prevent a senior from being able to tell someone about sexual abuse, which can make them particularly vulnerable.

If you’re concerned about sexual abuse towards an elder, be aware of bleeding from the anus or genitals, bruising around the genitals or thighs, unexplained sexually transmitted diseases, pain in the genital area or buttocks, torn or bloody underwear, or pelvic injuries. An elder who has problems walking or sitting that can’t otherwise be explained could be due to elder abuse of a sexual nature. Evidence of a new sexually transmitted disease could be another concern over sexual abuse.

It’s also common for elders who are survivors of sexual abuse to have mental health problems like panic attacks, social withdrawal, emotional withdrawal, or suicide attempts. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help immediately by calling the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

  1. Emotional and Psychological Abuse

Are You A Survivor Of Elder Abuse?

Emotional and psychological abuse of elderly people can be a bit more challenging to detect. This type of elder abuse is characterized by intentional acts that inflict mental anguish, fear, or angst in an elder. People who are survivors of emotional or psychological abuse may not have physical scars, but they may bear the mental scars of humiliation, isolation, insults, name-calling, and being terrorized or threatened. Withholding resources from an elder is another form of emotional or psychological abuse.

How will you know that this could be happening? Is the elder depressed, withdrawn, scared, or unusually moody? Have eating or sleeping patterns recently changed? Do they avoid eye contact and appear to have lost their self-esteem? These could be signs of emotional or psychological abuse.

  1. Elder Neglect

When a caregiver doesn’t meet an elder’s needs, and the elder gets injured or otherwise harmed as a result, this can constitute elder neglect. Elder neglect isn’t an oversight. It comes from intentional carelessness or lack of regard for an elder’s well-being.

The National Center on Elder Abuse states that elder neglect was the most common type of elder abuse in at least one study. Neglect ranked closely behind other types of elder abuse in other studies.

Elders should have adequate shelter and have their basic daily living activities tended to. They should have appropriate clothing and help with hygiene if needed. They should also be safe and feel safe in their environment. Incidences of neglect may be high in some nursing homes or where caregivers are exhausted and overworked.

  1. Elder Abandonment

NCEA defines elder abandonment as when someone intentionally deserts an elder who can’t care for themselves. For example, former caretakers may leave someone at a hospital, nursing home, or another care facility without making arrangements for visits and alternate care.

Survivors of elder abandonment are likely to become confused, scared, lost, depressed, and empty inside. Their physical appearance may deteriorate to where they become malnourished, dehydrated, or with hygiene problems. Pain and confusion over the loss can worsen physical pain and problems.

  1. Financial Elder Abuse

The National Council on Aging states that seniors are more likely to report financial abuse than other types of elder abuse.

Elder financial abuse can occur when a trusted individual takes advantage of an elder by abusing their authority over finances or personal belongings. Financial abuse may be evidenced by someone stealing their belongings or property, showing an unusual interest in how the elder’s money is being spent, withdrawing money without accountability or authority, or redirecting mail, bills, or notices to the perpetrator’s home. Seniors who can’t manage their own finances are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse.

  1. Elder Self-Neglect

One of the most difficult-to-detect forms of elder abuse is self-neglect. This abuse can happen when an elderly person can’t take care of their basic daily needs, they don’t ask for help, and no one takes steps to help them. It can be tough for elders to admit that they begin to lose their independence at some point. Self-neglect can be as dangerous as other types of elder abuse.

Self-neglect may result from dehydration, malnutrition, untreated medical conditions, or poor hygiene. The neglected elder may live in unsafe or unsanitary physical living conditions. Some people might lack appropriate clothing or outerwear, such as leaving the house in their pajamas or without a coat. They may be unable to keep up with medical aids like eyeglasses, hearing aids, or dentures.  Homelessness and inadequate housing might also be indications of self-neglect.


You can take several steps if you suspect someone is a survivor of elder abuse. For many elders, it might simply be a matter of checking in regularly. When you’re there on a regular basis, you’re more likely to notice changes, or your loved one may be more inclined to tell you about it.

If your loved one does say something, it’s crucial to take their complaints seriously. Ask questions and be hypervigilant about any changes, whether they’re positive or negative. If it’s an emergency, call 911 right away. 

Taking care of an aging friend or relative can be a stressful, difficult time, during which you might have to make many difficult or heart-wrenching decisions. Personal caregiving, especially, can be incredibly stressful and exhausting. During such difficult times, it can be helpful for the elder, the caregiver, or both to seek therapeutic counseling. When the circumstances are appropriate and elders are safe, this final season of life can be rewarding and memorable for everyone.

Studies show that online therapy can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, specific phobias, and more. Online therapy typically gets these results by using cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which is proven to be not only effective but also fast-acting in the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. If you’re worried about the price of therapy, note that online therapy is cheaper than in-person therapy, so help could be closer than you think.

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