Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a growing concern currently and will grow as the U.S. population ages.  It is widely believed that incidents of elder abuse are underreported, with various sources indicating that one in less than 10 cases are reported.

Elder abuse can be defined in a variety of ways.  In general, it is intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or other trusted individual that causes harm to a vulnerable elder.

The NCEA (National Center on Elder Abuse) defines elder abuse in the following manner:

Federal definitions of elder abuse first appeared in the 1987 Amendments to the Older Americans Act, however, these definitions are guidelines. Each state defines elder abuse according to its unique statutes and regulations, and definitions vary from state to state. Researchers also use varying definitions to describe and study the problem.

Domestic elder abuse generally refers to any of the following types of mistreatment that are committed by someone with whom the elder has a special relationship (for example, a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver).

Institutional abuse generally refers to any of the following types of mistreatment occurring in residential facilities (such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, group home, board and care facility, foster home, etc.) and is usually perpetrated by someone with a legal or contractual obligation to provide some element of care or protection.

Elder abuse can affect people of all ethnic backgrounds and social status and can affect both men and women. The following types of abuse are commonly accepted as the major categories of elder mistreatment:

  • Physical Abuse—Inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need.
  • Emotional Abuse—Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts.
  • Sexual Abuse—Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind, coercing an elder to witness sexual behaviors.
  • Exploitation—Illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder.
  • Neglect—Refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Abandonment—The desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.

Although there are distinct types of abuse defined, it is not uncommon for an elder to experience more than one type of mistreatment at the same or different times. For example, a person financially exploiting an elder may also be neglecting to provide appropriate care, food, medication, etc. Visit the Types of Abuse section to learn more about the types of elder abuse.

The NCEA site contains a variety of other information concerning elder abuse, including warning signs of elder abuse; who abuses older people; how can elder abuse be prevented; and who to call if elder abuse is suspected.

A resource for Chicago elder abuse is found at the City of Chicago “Elder Abuse Information” page.

Elder abuse can happen anywhere, including in the elder’s own home, in a care facility such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospice; and in hospitals.

As such, nursing home abuse is considered one form of elder abuse.