Elder abuse, or taking advantage of the elderly, is the physical, emotional, or sexual harm inflicted upon an elderly person. It also includes financial exploitation and neglect by a caregiver or the person responsible for their care.

As older adults become less mobile and physically weakener, they can defend themselves less against this aggressive behavior.

Physical or mental disabilities may also cripple them, which makes them targets for exploitative behavior. Luckily, there are laws against taking advantage of the elderly that help to protect them from becoming victims.

Laws against taking advantage of the elderly

In theUS., around 500,000 elder abuse cases are reported annually. However, millions of cases go unreported due to fear or hesitation on behalf of the senior.

Abusers are often the adult children of seniors but can also be other close family members or caregivers at senior facilities.

As authorities and government officials become more aware of the magnitude and consequences of elder abuse, preventative laws are being introduced to Congress.

These laws intend to strengthen the programs and services that help seniors suffering from abuse and require mandatory reporting of such cases.

Federal laws are in place to protect seniors nationwide, but some states have drafted bills to protect their older residents.

Federal laws

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010, the Elder Justice Act (EJA) was the first federal legislation to address elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

It authorized funding for state Adult Protective Services programs and called for federal elder abuse prevention services strategizing.

As a result, senior care facilities received more funding for staff training, management, and maintenance. It also requires nursing home or senior care facility employees to report elder abuse cases.

The EJA also allowed for forming an official Elder Justice Coordinating Council and Advisory Board in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

State laws

States with high proportions of senior citizens often have stricter and more expansive laws and regulations that protect the elderly from abuse.

The penalties for elder abuse may also be harsher. However, all 50 states have specific protections against the abuse of elders. Examples are the following:

  • Elder Abuse and Neglect Act: protects against the abandonment by a caregiver or family member to care for a senior
  • Protection Against Criminal or Civil Elder Abuse: prevents the willful infliction of pain upon an elder
  • Protection Against Criminal Financial Exploitation: prevents the misuse of a senior’s resources for one’s financial profit

Visit the Elder Abuse Statutes page on Justice.gov for state-specific information.

5 ways people take advantage of the elderly

Elder abuse is any purposeful act that results in physical, emotional, or mental harm to a senior. This includes direct harm as well as indirect ways of taking advantage. Five main types of elder abuse can cause severe damage to a senior.

#1 Physical abuse

Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force that can result in bodily injury, physical impairment, or serious illness.

The most common form of physical abuse is violent action, which includes hitting (with or without an object or weapon), scratching, biting, pinching, choking, pushing, kicking, or burning.

Physical abuse includes anything non-touching that can affect the senior’s physical health. For example, physical abuse is purposefully giving an old the wrong drug dosage or confining them within a particular room or area.

Warning signs

  • Inexplicable signs of injury (such as bruises, scratches, or scars)
  • Random fractures, sprains, or bone breaks
  • Changes in medication evaluation (too much or too little of a prescription)
  • Signs of restraint such as marks on wrists, ankles, or neck

#2 Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse occurs when an individual intentionally uses verbal or non-verbal communication that imposes distress, humiliation, fear, or anxiety upon a senior.

For example, psychological abuse includes insulting seniors, threatening them with physical abuse or isolation, isolating them from family/friends, exerting excessive control of their lives, or blaming them.

Warning signs

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Changes in social behavior – including being suddenly withdrawn, quiet, or insecure
  • A senior attempt to harm themselves and others
  • Senior express feelings of hopelessness, extreme sadness, or suicide
  • Controlling behavior from a caregiver

#3 Financial exploitation

Financial exploitation occurs when a caregiver, relative, friend, or other uses a senior’s funds, assets, or property without authorization.

Abusers will deprive an elder of their access to resources and assets for financial gain. For instance, this form of abuse includes possession, theft, forgery, and the coercion of a senior to yield their finances.

Warning signs

  • Suspicious bank activity – including large, frequent, or unexplained withdrawals
  • Caregiver or relative who suddenly conducts financial transactions on behalf of elder
  • New, random accounts appear in bank statements without explanation
  • A sudden decrease in funds
  • A senior reports missing cash or checks

#4 Abandonment and outright neglect

Abandonment occurs when caregivers purposefully neglect their responsibility to care for an elder. This means they stop meeting the necessary medical care, nutrition, and hygiene needs seniors can’t meet independently.

Seniors who rely on their caregiver can be at serious risk for injury, compromised health, and safety if their caregiver abandons them. Abandonment can also occur when a caregiver exposes a senior to unsafe environments or activities, putting the elder in harm’s way.

Warning signs

  • A senior stops communicating with family and friends
  • Regular complaints about hunger or fatigue
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Untreated physical problems
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Senior stops bathing or continue to wear the same clothing

#5 Sexual abuse

Any sexual contact imposed upon a forced or unwanted senior is considered sexual abuse. Any physical or sexual act performed without a senior’s verbal consent is exploitative, but sexual abuse can include non-touching actions.

For example, forcing a senior to undress, watch sexual acts, or watch pornographic material is non-touching sexual abuse.

Warning signs

  • A direct report of sexual assault
  • Bruises around the genitals, breasts, or other parts of the body
  • A sudden fear and dislike of undressing
  • A sudden distrust or fear of a particular individual


Are there laws against taking advantage of the elderly?

Each state has laws to protect older adults from abuse and exploitation. The laws in each state may vary, but they guide agencies and companies that provide elderly services.

How can we protect the elderly from being taken advantage of?

If you suspect an older person is being taken advantage of financially, you can take a few actions. You should try to talk to the person and gather more information about the situation. Contacting their financial institution or local Adult Protective Services (APS) office can also assist. Law enforcement can also be contacted in serious cases.

What’s the most common form of elder abuse?

Financial exploitation is the primary type of elder abuse that occurs, followed by emotional abuse and neglect.

What time of evidence would you report for a case of elder abuse?

The following are signs of abuse in elderly individuals: broken bones, sprains, or severe injuries without a fall being reported, evidence of being restrained (such as marks from straps or ropes), sudden changes in behavior, and direct reports from the elderly victim of physical abuse.

How to prevent abuse of the elderly

Preventing abuse may not be the most straightforward task, but it’s certainly possible to avoid the lingering effects of abuse.

If a senior experiences one or more forms of abuse, they should immediately tell someone they trust. This can be anyone from a family member, a friend, or a medical professional.

Suppose it’s been discovered by another individual that elder abuse has been or is currently taking place. In that case, it’s essential to prioritize the elder’s needs, as they can sometimes be hesitant to report the abuse themselves.

Laws against taking advantage of the elderly are there to help you! If you or a senior you know is suffering from elder abuse, please consider taking the following actions:

  • Contact authorities if there is an immediate, life-threatening danger
  • Report the abuse to Eldercare Locator
  • Relocate the elder from their current living arrangement or wherever the abuse most often takes place
  • Take responsibility away from the abuser – i.e., discharge a paid caregiver, put the senior in the care of another family member, etc.

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