As the number and percentage of individuals 65 and over has increased in this country, so has the incidence of elder abuse. There are some signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation which might alert family members, concerned friends or professionals to the possibility of problems. No one should jump to conclusions, but signs and symptoms should be taken seriously. What sometimes seems to be self-neglect often turns out to be elder abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is generally defined as the improper use of physical force that may or does result in bodily harm, injury, physical pain, or restraint of an individual. Physical frailty, decreased physical ability, and vision and audio impairments make older persons especially susceptible to physical abuse. The following are indicators:

  • fractures and dislocations
  • lacerations and abrasions
  • burns
  • injuries to the head, scalp, face
  • bruises-on upper arms (from shaking), around wrists or ankles (from being tied down), in shapes similar to objects, inside of thighs or arms

Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse is defined as any non-consensual sexual touching or contact of any kind. The following are indicators:

  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • pain, itching, bleeding or bruising in the genital area

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is the intentional or reckless infliction of psychological pain, injury, suffering or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. The following are indicators:

  • low self-esteem
  • overly anxious or withdrawn
  • extreme changes in mood
  • depression
  • suicidal behavior
  • confusion or disorientation

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse or exploitation involves the theft or conversion of money or property belonging to an elder, accomplished by force, misrepresentation, or other illegal means often by taking advantage of the elder's partial or total lack of legal competency. The loss of what may appear to be a minimal amount of money to some, may account for a substantial loss for an elder person. It may result in the elder having to go without food, medication, or possibly his or her apartment.


Neglect is the failure to provide for the care and treatment or safety of an elder or fulfill any part of a person's obligations or duties to an elder. Neglect also means the failure to provide necessities of life or comfort to the elder. The following are indicators:

  • poor personal hygiene
  • signs of overmedication, undermedication, and/or misuse of medication
  • incontinent elder dressed in soiled clothing
  • elder left alone and deprived of stimulation and affection
  • malnutrition


Self-neglect is the failure of an elder to care for her or himself. This usually occurs in the context of not providing for one's own basic needs and personal hygiene.

In addition to the abuse that elderly persons are subject to by relatives and/or caretakers in their homes or in institutions, they may also become targets for criminal victimization. Contrary to popular assumptions that elderly citizens are disproportionately victims of crime as a result of their physical limitations, in reality, they are the least victimized age group. Yet, further examination does reveal that elderly persons may be subject to more severe crimes, and that they are more fearful of crime; thus the consequences of victimization are often more detrimental.

The low victimization rate for elderly persons may be explained by their lifestyles, which limit the amount of time they spend out in the evening and their contact with likely offenders. However, this does not safeguard them from becoming victims of serious crimes. Research indicates that personal larceny with contact (pocket-picking, purse snatching), a significant and dangerous crime as it involves both theft and personal contact, is the most common crime against elderly Americans. Robbery, inclusive of both theft and assault, is second in frequency. In addition, the following are further aspects that characterize the severity of crimes against the elderly:

  • Elders are twice as likely as younger persons to be victimized in or near their homes.
  • Elders are more often victimized by offenders with weapons, including firearms.
  • Elders are more likely than younger persons to be victims of violent crime perpetrated by strangers.
  • Elders suffer greater physical, psychological, and financial loss when victimized.
  • Elders are more easily injured, heal more slowly, are less resilient emotionally, and are less financially stable than younger victims.

As the number of aging Americans continues to increase, the abuse and victimization of the elderly will become a national problem of even greater proportion. Learn more about the effective crime prevention programs which aid in the detection and prevention of elder abuse in our community.