May 9, 2011

 As defined by the National Center on Elder Abuse, elder abuse refers to intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or “trusted” individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. Physical abuse; neglect; emotional or psychological abuse; verbal abuse and threats; financial abuse and exploitation; sexual abuse; and abandonment are considered forms of elder abuse. In many states, self‐neglect is also considered mistreatment.

Physical abuse is the use of force to threaten or physically injure a vulnerable elder (warning signs: slap marks, unexplained bruises, most pressure marks, and certain types of burns or blisters, such as cigarette burns).

Emotional abuse includes verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, or belittling acts that cause or could cause mental anguish, pain, or distress to a senior (warning signs: withdrawal from normal activities, unexplained changes in alertness, or other unusual behavioral changes).

Sexual abuse is sexual contact that is forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced upon a vulnerable elder, including anyone who is unable to grant consent (warning signs: bruises around the breasts or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases ).

Exploitation is theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and use of undue influence as a lever to gain control over an older person’s money or property (warning signs: sudden change in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as “loans” or “gifts,” and loss of property).

Neglect is a caregiver’s failure or refusal to provide for a vulnerable elder’s safety, physical, or emotional needs (warning signs: pressure ulcers, filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration).

Abandonment is desertion of a frail or vulnerable elder by anyone with a duty of care.

Self-neglect is an inability to understand the consequences of one’s own actions or inaction, which leads to, or may lead to, harm or endangerment.

Elder abuse can occur anywhere – at home, in nursing homes, or in other institutions. It affects seniors across all socio‐economic groups, cultures, and races. Women and “older” elders are more likely to be victimized. Dementia is a significant risk factor. Mental health and substance abuse issues ‐ of both abusers and victims ‐ are risk factors. Isolation can also contribute to risk.

Research indicates that more than one in ten elders may experience some type of abuse, but only one in five cases or fewer are reported. This means that very few seniors who have been abused get the help they need.

What can ordinary people do to help deal with the problem of elder abuse? Report suspected mistreatment to local adult protective services agency or law enforcement. Keep in contact with older friends, neighbors, and relatives. Maintain contact with elders to help decrease isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment. Be aware of what may be happening with older neighbors and acquaintances, looking for signs of withdrawal, nervousness, fear, or anxiety, especially around certain people.

To learn more about elder abuse, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website at

If you or a loved one have suffered elder abuse, use our website to find attorneys in your area who may be able to help answer your questions. In Maryland, please visit the website You may also call us toll free 800-295-3959.