Many elderly rely entirely on family or other trusted individuals to help them. Whether it is physiological or psychological, as people grow older they tend to need guidance and support. Unfortunately, the dependence upon caregivers or family members makes an older person more vulnerable to abuse.

One in ten Americans (age 60+) are suffering from some form of abuse. Worse yet, one study estimates that only one in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities. Many believe institutions for care, like assisted living and nursing homes, commit the most abuse. This is not so. 90 percent of elder abuse cases are perpetrated by family members.

A typical elder abuse story might go something like this:

An aging widow, relying on her children to provide meals, transportation, and to make financial decisions, finds it difficult to report abuse when one of her children takes advantage of her. The child takes her money, hits her and is neglectful in caregiving. Furthermore, the widow is threatened with loss of support from the child if the she complains.

Common classifications of adult abuse

  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse, stealing money or changing title on assets. A MetLife study found that seniors lose at least $2.9 billion annually to financial exploitation. Over half of financial abuse in the United States is committed by family members, caregivers and friends.
  • Active and passive neglect by caregivers — “Active neglect is the willful failure by a caregiver to fulfill care-taking functions and responsibilities. This includes, but is not limited to, abandonment, deprivation of food, water, heat, cleanliness, eyeglasses, dentures, or health-related services. Passive neglect is the non-willful failure to fulfill care-taking responsibilities because of inadequate caregiver knowledge, infirmity, or disputing the value of prescribed services.”
  • Self-Neglect, which means an individual is failing to care for his or her own self needs.

What can you do to help prevent abuse

  1. Watch for warning signs that might indicate elder abuse,
  2. Take a look at the elder’s medications,
  3. Watch for possible financial abuse,
  4. Call and visit as often as you can,
  5. Ask questions about health, happiness, and safety,
  6. Offer to stay with the elder so the caregiver can have a break—on a regular basis, if possible.


Report the abuse

All states have agencies that receive complaints of abuse. In many states, failure to report abuse of the elderly is a crime. Anyone who suspects that an older adult is being mistreated should contact a local Adult Protective Services office, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or police. The Elder abuse hot line phone number is (800) 677-1116.