Elder Abuse Awareness

Elder abuse affects hundreds of thousands of people each year with only about one out of fourteen cases coming to the attention of authorities. This means that there is a severe lack of recognition of a crime being perpetrated on the fastest-growing segment of our population. These victims tend to be the most isolated of all victims of family violence. They are likely to have fewer social connections to the community that would normally be an avenue of help. The elderly can be victimized by their adult children, spouses and other relatives due to chronic illness, mental impairment and financial or physical dependence.

To report suspected fiduciary or physical abuse of the elderly, contact:

Adult Protective Services Hotline (800) 510-2020.

Their mailing address is:
Adult Protective Services/Area Agency on Aging
9335 Hazard Way, Suite 100
San Diego, California 92123.

Types of Elder Abuse

Physical Abuse: Physical abuse includes bodily assault, such as beating and burning; sexual assault; and physical restraint. As with other types of victims of abuse, elder victims are usually isolated; self-imposed isolation may also result from the embarrassment/shame about the signs of abuse. Neglect and psychological abuse often occur concurrently with this type of abuse. Sexual abuse is coercing or forcing an elderly person to take part in any nonconsensual sex act.

Psychological/Emotional Abuse: Psychological maltreatment of the elderly is best described as the infliction of mental anguish through humiliation, which includes ridiculing older persons for their behavior and blaming them for certain attitudes, actions or events; harassment, which consists of intimidation, threats, and provoking fear for health and well-being; and manipulation, which includes denying access to information, giving false information, isolating the older person from others, and interfering in decision-making. It includes repeated swearing at, insulting, humiliating, rejecting, ignoring or frightening an older person. Keeping an older person in isolation and trying to prevent access to him or her also is psychological abuse.

Material Exploitation: Material exploitation of the elderly is manifested in two primary ways. The first is the misuse, theft, or extortion of the older person's money, property, possessions, or insurance. The second is the denial of the older person's access to his or her material goods.

Violation of Rights: This includes denying the rights of a competent elder, denying the rights of an incompetent elder (when guardianship is indicated), involuntary servitude (forcing the older person to perform tasks that are inappropriate or inhumane), or forcefully evicting the older person from his or her residence and forcing him or her to relocate.

Passive Neglect: Passive neglect, the most common and clearly understood type of elder maltreatment, results when the caretaker of a frail and dependent older person is incapable of meeting that person's needs. The victim may fail to receive proper hygiene, medication, supervision, nutrition, and other important personal care.

Neglect includes depriving the elderly of basic care and essentials for normal everyday existence such as food, hygiene, or medication.

Active Neglect: The deliberate withholding of services, material needs, personal care, or intangibles (e.g., social contact) constitutes active neglect. Often such behavior is linked to the caretaker's desire to cause pain and suffering or to inflict punishment upon a dependent older person. Victims are typically kept in physical and social isolation, which makes identifying them difficult.

Elderly/dependent adults are targeted for abuse and exploitation because:

  • They are typically trusting and trustworthy.
  • They often live alone and are isolated and lonely; they may enjoy the attention, gifts, favors and other "gestures of affection."
  • The suspect may remind the elderly person of a favorite child or loved one.
  • They may be unsophisticated in money matters.
  • They may not know the value of assets, especially the family home purchased 50 years ago.
  • They may be unable to distinguish one document from another. (e.g., visually-impaired woman believes she is signing document for home repairs and actually signs a grant deed which gives title to another.)
  • They may be in poor health and not survive the prosecution of the suspect.
  • They may have poor memory – won't be credible, or recall events in sufficient detail; may be slower to react.
  • The nature of the crime – routine series of transactions or events which become blurred and indistinguishable from one another.
  • The victim becomes filled with self-reproach and self-doubt for being gullible. Self-image and confidence are shattered.
  • They are easily identifiable.
  • Due to guilt, fault and embarrassment, they rarely report.


Warning signs exhibited by the elder

  • Says there is abuse or neglect in the home.
  • Visible bruises, cuts or scratches not logically explained.
  • Dependent, passive, confused or afraid.
  • Noticeably unkempt (soiled clothes, dirty hair, he/she sitting in urine.)
  • Overly fearful
  • Untrusting
  • Withdrawn
  • Timid
  • Depressed
  • Has suspect speak for victim
  • Ambivalent
  • Isolated
  • Tearful
  • Agitated
  • Sleepless
  • Confused
  • Passive
  • Resigned
  • Hesitant to speak freely
  • Frequently denies being victimized
  • Guarded
  • Wary of outsiders
  • Gives implausible explanations for what has occurred; embarrassed and filled with shame.


Warning signs exhibited by the caregiver/offender/suspect

  • Violence, aggressiveness or display of a controlling personality.
  • Doesn't allow the elder to speak for himself or herself
  • Reluctant to let you into the home
  • Suspected of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Hostility towards interviewers and visitors
  • Verbal abuse of the elder
  • Isolation of the elder
  • Lack of concern about the elder and refusal to spend money on the victim's care
  • Failure to pay bills when due or at all
  • Depression
  • No visible means of support
  • Exaggerated defensiveness of concern about the elder
  • Unusual interest in the amount of money spent on the elder's care
  • Promise of lifelong care in return for signing over property
  • Removing an elder who needs skilled nursing from an appropriate facility
  • Caregiver always present during interviews
  • Caregiver lacks understanding of elder's needs
  • Caregiver primarily focused on money matters
  • Disappearance of caregiver
  • Disappearance of elder's papers, credit cards, checkbook or valuables
  • Believes too much money is spent on elder