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Types and Symptoms of Elder Abuse

According to the best available estimates, between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for protection. Yet only 1 out of 14 instances of abuse are reported! And with the baby boomer population aging, and the economy in turmoil it is estimated that instances of Elder Abuse will continue to increase.

However, Elder Abuse is something that can be prevented. Being aware is the first step. Here are the seven general types of abuse that occur against the older population. These are not necessarily the legal definitions. If you suspect an elderly person is being abused, please seek help immediately.

1. Physical Abuse. Physical abuse of the elderly is the non-accidental use of physical force against an older person that results in pain, impairment or injury. This kind of abuse includes hitting and shoving, as well as the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints or confinement. Signs of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment include bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, and burns.

2. Emotional Abuse. Emotional or psychological abuse occurs when someone speaks to an older person in a way that causes emotional pain or distress. Verbal forms of this type of abuse include intimidating the person through yelling or threats, humiliation and/or ridicule, habitual blaming or scapegoating. Nonverbal forms of emotional abuse include ignoring the elderly person, isolating the person from friends or activities, or terrorizing/menacing the older person. Signs of such psychological abuse include unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression.

3. Sexual Abuse. Sexual elder abuse is defined as contact with an elderly person without the older person’s consent. Such abuse can, but need not, involve physical sex acts. Sexual abuse of the elderly can also include showing pornographic material to the elderly person, forcing the person to watch sex acts, or forcing the older person to undress. Common signs of sexual elder abuse include bruises around the breasts or genital area.

4. Financial Exploitation. This involves the unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property, either by a caregiver or an outside scam artist. This is often perpetrated by a dishonest caregiver or family member who (a) misuses the older person’s personal checks, credit cards or accounts, (b) steals cash, income checks, or household goods, (c) forges the elder’s signature, or (d) engages in identity theft. Financial exploitation also occurs by scam artists who contact the older person about a “prize” that the elderly person has won but must pay money to claim, as well as phony charities and fraudulent investment schemes. The sign is what you would expect … a sudden change in the person’s finances.

5. Healthcare Fraud and Abuse. This kind of fraud is carried out by dishonest doctors, nurses and other care providers. Types include:

(a) Charging for services that were not provided.

(b) Overcharging or double-billing.

(c) Overmedicating or undermedicating.

6. Neglect or abandonment by caregivers. This is by far the most common type of elder abuse. It consists of the failure to fulfill a caregiver’s obligation to the elderly person. It can be either intentional (when the caretaker makes a conscious decision to withhold care that the elderly charge needs) or unintentional (such as when the care provider is either ignorant or denies that the older person needs as much care as he/she does). Signs of healthcare abuse include bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect. Signs can also include tense relationships and/or frequent arguments between the caregiver and the older person.

7. The last type of elder abuse is self-neglect. This can be one of the hardest types to deal with. An example of self-neglect occurs when an older person’s only main asset is a house, and the person has only a limited income (such as social security of $650 per month). The older person ends up spending a major portion of his/her income on property taxes and home repairs, and then has little left for medical care, groceries, and other living supplies (like soap). The older person may only get one meal a day — when “Meals on Wheels” comes at lunch time.

The reason self-neglect is so difficult to deal with is that there is often no “quick fix.” The solution may be a painful choice of appointing a guardian or conservator.


If you believe that an elderly person has been abused or exploited and would like to find out if legal action is appropriate, please call an attorney who is experienced in Elder Law. If you are located in Arizona, you may call our office at 866-920-0549.

Brian Starr is the founder of the Phoenix law firm of Starr Law Firm, PLC. You may contact Brian at 866-920-0549 or email.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is made available for general informational purposes only, and is not intended to constitute specific legal advice or to be a substitute for advice from qualified counsel. For that reason, you should not act or refrain from acting based on any information in this article without first obtaining advice from professional counsel qualified in the applicable subject matter and jurisdictions.