Elder Abuse

This year the World Health Organization estimated that by 2050, the global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double to 2 billion from 2015’s 900 million. The elderly are seen as sources of wisdom. Although they are often treated with care and respect, this is not always the case.

As vulnerable members of our society, they can unfortunately be targets of abuse as they become less capable of defending themselves. This abuse can occur in care facilities, relatives’ homes, and even their own homes and is often carried out by a caregiver, usually a family member. This abuse can take on many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse.

Physical abuse involves contact that is forceful and results in injury or pain. It could include hitting, scratching, burning, restraining, pushing, tripping, or drugging. Emotional abuse results in emotional pain or distress. Examples include threatening, yelling, ignoring, isolating, humiliating, and scapegoating the individual.

Sexual abuse is any contact that is non-consensual. Sexual acts are included as well as forcing the person to view explicit acts or material or making her undress.

Financial abuse occurs when an unauthorised person uses the elderly person’s resources or property. Examples include stealing money or possessions, forging signatures, using credit cards, identity theft, refusal to repay loans, or investment or charity fraud.

A form of abuse that is especially concerning regarding the elderly is healthcare fraud and abuse. This occurs when healthcare providers fail to provide adequate healthcare. This could involve under-medicating or overmedicating, giving fake medication, recommending false remedies, double billing or overcharging, or simply refusing to provide care (yet charging for it).

Older men have the same risk of abuse as women. The abuse women receive may be more severe and persistent, however. Sexual abuse is more common in women. Financial abuse is also more common especially in cultures where women are viewed as inferior and thus are not afforded the full rights to their finances. In such a setting, financial abuse often occurs when a woman is widowed.

Signs of Elderly Abuse


  • Tension or arguments between the caregiver and the elderly person
  • Behaviour or personality changes


  • Unexplained injuries
  • Bruises, especially those that indicate possible restraining (e.g. across the wrists or ankles)
  • The caregiver’s reluctance for you to speak to the elderly person alone
  • Broken health aids (eyeglasses, walkers, etc.)
  • Recoiling from touch
  • Refusal to see a particular caregiver or medical centre


  • Intimidation tactics that you witness the caregiver displaying
  • Rocking back and forth, mumbling, thumb-sucking (this one is often easy to miss as it can also be visible in persons with dementia)
  • Evasiveness


  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding around the breasts or vaginal or anal areas
  • Clothing that is torn or stained
  • Vaginal infections or STIs


  • Significant withdrawal from bank accounts
  • Unusual ATM activity
  • Sudden change in financial situation
  • Missing money or possessions
  • Changes in wills, power of attorney, etc.


  • Inadequate healthcare (bed sores, failure to change dirty clothing or bedding, etc.)
  • Overmedication or undermedication
  • Double billing or overcharging
  • Failure to take medication on time


Elderly people are at an even higher risk of abuse if they:

  • Are facing intense illnesses such as dementia.
  • Are socially isolated.
  • Live in care facilities, especially if those facilities have low standards of care and the staff are overworked.
  • Tend to be aggressive, physically or verbally.
  • Were an abusive spouse or parent in the past.
  • Live in a home with a history of domestic violence.

These risk factors are not intended to blame the victims of abuse. No one should be treated in a way that leaves them feeling depressed, agitated, lonely, or frightened.

If you are a victim of abuse or know someone who might be, please visit the links below for more information as well as some links that offer help. Only a few countries have been listed so you might need to search online for specific helplines or reporting measures offered in your country.

For more information, visit:

American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/elder-abuse.aspx)

National Center on Elder Abuse (https://ncea.acl.gov/)


Elder Abuse Prevention Unit (http://www.eapu.com.au/) (Australia)

Age in Action (http://www.age-in-action.co.za/) (South Africa)

Action on Elder Abuse (https://www.elderabuse.org.uk/) (UK)

Eldercare Locator (http://www.eldercare.gov/) (USA)

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