Learning about Elderly Abuse

November 8, 2016 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Learning about Elderly Abuse

We were all young once, and we will all be elderly at some point too. Life is short; gray hair and moving more slowly will be here sooner than later. If we will all be old someday, then shouldn't we all be standing up for those who are older today?

The elderly segment of our society is often the most vulnerable; they are often taken advantage of, abused, and neglected. But knowing what is happening, what to look for, and how to deal with it, is a step in the right direction. The more aware, the more proactive, the more perpetrators are punished, the less these unfortunate scenarios will become reality.

Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse refers to the intentional, knowing act by a caregiver or other individual that causes harm to the elderly individual or puts them in the position that they are likely to be seriously harmed. Elder abuse occurs in every state. Due to the prevalence of this systemic issue, each state has passed some type of elder abuse prevention law. There are a variety of different types of elder abuse, including the following:

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is defined as physical force or violence that results in bodily injury, pain, or impairment; it can also include assault, battery, and inappropriate restraint.

Physical abuse can be one of the most upsetting and damaging forms of abuse, as well as, the easiest for a loved one to identify.

The types of people who physically abuse the elderly can range to pretty much anyone who has contact with them, but the most common are those closest to them. It could be caretakers, adult children, older grandchildren, or so-called friends. Physical abuse may also be perpetrated by spouses or intimate partners in order to gain power and control over the victim. Although this is technically domestic violence, it is still a form of elderly abuse also. This is a good example of how elderly abuse can be committed by those who are elderly themselves. If one person is in the position to abuse the other—spouse or not—it should be stopped.

People who physically abuse the elderly are likely to be unmarried, often live with their victims, and are either unemployed or employed by the abused as a caretaker. There are many reasons why the elderly are abused. They are often the same reasons anyone is abused: power, dominance, fear of not being loved, to gain something, or out of frustration and anger.

Recognizing if your loved one is being physically abused is vital to stopping it. Since the elderly can be fragile, it may not take much for a punch to become a deathblow.

Signs may include external injuries, like cuts or bruises; or internal injuries like dislocations or broken bones. One should also keep an eye out of unusual injuries like burns, hand-shaped bruises, and missing patches of hair.

Another important warning sign is behavioral indicators. Recognizing how your loved one and the abuser interact with each other is important. If it appears that your loved one is scared of, nervous around, or timid in front of, their caretaker, child, or friend, start investigating immediately.

You should also look out for the following:
  • They cannot explain where or how the injury happened
  • Someone else gives you a different explanation for the injury
  • The same injury is happening over and over
  • They seem to be injured often
  • They have not sought medical care for injuries or are going to many different doctors (a sign the abuse is trying to be concealed)

Emotional/Psychological Abuse

Emotional abuse refers to humiliating, threatening, shaming, insulting, isolating, or intimidating an elderly individual through verbal means. Next to physical and sexual abuse, this type is one of the most damaging, especially since the effects can last for a long time.

Psychological abuse is the intentional infliction of mental or emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, or other verbal or nonverbal conduct.

Emotional and physical abuse overlap in their descriptions and forms.

Like all the other forms of abuse on this list, the perpetrators of emotional and psychological abuse may be adult children, other family members, caregivers, or so-called friends.

When an elderly person is isolated, and/or lacks social or emotional support, they are particularly vulnerable to this type of abuse. Like the other forms of abuse on this list, elderly people who have frequent visitors trusted family members checking on them, and a large social network is often less vulnerable. Perpetrators understand this and often aim their attacks at those who are helpless or receive infrequent visitors.

Like other forms of abuse, emotional and psychological mistreatment happens either for sadistic reasons (like making the abuser feel powerful) or for some sort of gain. We will cover this more, later in the article.

Warning signs that your loved one is being abused emotionally or psychologically can include both physical and behavioral indicators.

Physical indicators may include changes or decline in the elder person's health, while behavioral indicators may reveal themselves in how the person acts or interacts with their abuser.

Physical indicators:

  • Significant change in weight (either loss or gain) that has no other obvious cause
  • Elevated stress indicators, like loss of hair, elevated blood pressure, or nervousness
Behavioral indicators:
  • Sleep problem (either not sleeping or sleeping a lot)
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Avoids eye contact with abuser
  • Cowers in abusers presence
  • Visibly upset, agitated, withdrawn, or not responsive
  • Exhibits unusual behavior, such as biting, rocking, or outbursts

Another form of emotional or psychological abuse is involuntary seclusion. This involves restricting the elderly person's freedom to interact with others for extended periods of time against their will.

This can be done in a subtle or blatant way. A subtle form might involve a caretaker refusing to help the person to the cafeteria or to their weekly card game. A more blatant form might include locking an elderly person in their room or refusing to visit them as punishment.

At times, involuntary seclusion is used in care facilities to help emotionally disturbed persons calm down. This would be used sparingly and delicately. All other circumstances are most likely abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse of the elderly is a hard topic to talk discuss. Let's face it, nobody wants to think about any of these scenarios, but sexual abuse can be particularly difficult. Although it's not an easy topic, learning more about it can significantly help to protect your loved one. Those who are informed are more likely to notice something and more likely to intervene.

Sexual abuse of the elderly occurs when a perpetrator has non-consensual sexual contact with their abuser. It may also include watching or forcing the elderly person to undress, to watch the abuser masturbate, or to watch or talk about pornographic material.

Sex in retirement communities and assisted living facilities is much more pervasive than most people think. Often, elderly people are lonely, without a partner, or just plain bored. For these reasons, sex can be common in these places. However, if your family member lacks the mental capacity to make these decisions in any way, it's abuse.

Perpetrators of sexual abuse are often caretakers (in a facility or in-home) or another facility resident. However, it can be any other person who has regular access to the abused.

It's more common for victims to be women, however, older men are obviously not immune in any way. Likewise, individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities or those who lack social support are more vulnerable.

Physical indications that an elderly person was or is being sexually abused include:

  • Genital pain, irritation, or bleeding
  • Bruises or injuries to the area around the genitalia, including inner thighs
  • Difficulty sitting or walking that doesn't have another known cause
  • Finding stained or bloody underclothing, sheets, or sitting areas
  • Sexually transmitted disease (STD)

Behavioral indicators of sexual abuse include:

  • Inappropriate relationship between victim and suspected abuser
  • Avoidance of a caretaker or other member of community
  • Inappropriate, unusual, or aggressive sexual behavior
  • Avoiding activities that you usually help with, like changing clothes or bathing

Financial Exploitation/Abuse

Financial abuse references the exploitation of an elderly person's assets, income, or other resources. This is a very common form of elderly abuse, since the elderly may be wealthy from a lifetime of saving, vulnerable from diminishing mental capacity, and/or trusting because of their reliance on others. The following are some of the more common types of financial abuse (cons, scams, and fraud are covered separately, in the next section).

Financial abuse of the elderly comes in many, many forms. It may include:

  • Directly taking money or property by stealing from their purse, wallet, or home
  • The abuser writing a check themselves
  • Withdrawing funds from an ATM or bank account
  • Cashing checks and then keeping a portion or all of the funds
  • Forging the elderly person's signature for financial gain
  • Stealing their identity to take out credit cards or other debt
  • Getting an older person to change their will, or turn over power of attorney through deception or coercion
  • Having an elderly person sign over property for exploitative purposes
  • Using their property without permission, like renting out their second home
  • Taking payment for a service that was not performed

The elderly's own family members are statistically more likely to financially exploit or abuse them. However, literally, any person could perpetrate any number of different crimes.

Another important factor in understanding who often perpetrates this type of abuse is situational. This means that people who are in certain situations are more likely than others to financially exploit the elderly. This might be:

  • Someone who has substance abuse or gambling issues
  • Someone who has financial problems
  • A person who stand to inherit from the person (or feels like they should)
  • Someone who harbors ill will or resentment towards the elderly person
  • Someone who harbors ill will or resentment towards a potential inheritor

Another common form of financial exploitation is the overcharging for services or products, deceiving a purchaser to gain a larger commission or more business, or using a position of trust or power to coerce an elderly person.

Like other forms of abuse, those who are isolated or have very little contact with a trusted caretaker are most vulnerable. Elderly people with children who are at odds, addicted to drugs, or in financial hardship are particularly vulnerable.

Insight into Elderly Financial Exploitation

  • Persons over the age of 50 control over 70% of the nation's wealth. As mentioned, they are often more frugal and have been saving for a long time.
  • Seniors may not realize the value of their assets—perhaps the value is not important to them, they've had it for a long time, or their assets have increased tremendously in value.
  • They are often dependent on others, meaning they may have to give up access to things like debit cards or house keys to survive.
  • They are often set in their ways. This might mean that they keep cash at home, refuse more secure technologies like RFID chips, etc.
  • They are less likely to retaliate, either in a physical way or by turning the person in for fear of retaliation.
  • They may need their abuser to survive, especially if the person taking advantage of them is the only person they have to assist with feeding, dressing, doctor appointments, etc.

The most obvious indication that your loved one is being taken advantage of or abused financially is obviously a lack of or disappearing of money or valuables. However, there may be less obvious signs and indicators, like:

  • Unpaid bills
  • Unexplainable bank activities
  • Personal checks that are not accounted for
  • Monthly checks no longer coming to the elderly person's home
  • New “friends” or people hanging around all of a sudden and frequently
  • Letters or notices about the changing of bank accounts, legal documents, or financial standing
  • The care they are receiving or services they are paying for do not meet expectations (for example, if your loved one is paying $200 for lawn care and the grass is never cut)
  • Missing money or property from the house or storage
  • Suspicious or unknown signatures on checks or other documents (may be your loved one's signature but it looks off or wrong somehow)
  • Missing documents
  • Odd behavior from the caregiver regarding the elderly person's financials (for example, excessively asking about their financial situation, caregiver suddenly handling errands like running to the bank)
  • Any odd behavior from a caregiver that gives you a deceitful impression should be investigated


Although it's technically financial abuse or exploitation, fraud or scams are in their own category since they have unique features.

Elderly people are more susceptible to frauds and scams than other segments of society for the same reasons listed above regarding finances. Every day, scammers are devising new ways to separate people from their money.

Scams or fraud are acts of deception to take money from an unsuspecting person. This can be in the form of a con, scare tactic, or deception.

Confidence crimes, more commonly called cons, are the use of deception to gain a victim's trust or confidence. This often done through convincing lying and well thought out stories. A scam that is currently popular involves a phone call from someone pretending to be the IRS. They are supposedly calling the victim as a courtesy to give them one last chance to pay their outstanding taxes (which they don't owe) before they are arrested for the debt. The factor that really makes it so effective is that the con artist tells the person that the police are on their way to arrest them. This is often pulled this off by pretending they are on another line with the police

Fraud may also occur in the form of identity theft, which may involve the opening of credit cards, accessing of bank information, the opening of credit lines like mortgages, or even the committing of criminal acts using another's personal information.

Another popular scam is the so-called “lonely heart scam” or “sweetheart scam.” This is pretty self-explanatory but can come in the form of a new romantic partner, best friend, or online relationship. Often one they gain their trust, they manipulate money out of them in a one time, quick scheme; or they play the long game and maneuver themselves into a position of financial gain when the elderly person eventually dies.

Warning signs are similar to those in the financial exploitation and abuse section above.


Most of the forms of abuse that are listed above come from intentional acts. Neglect of the elderly often centers on the failure to ensure the proper hygiene, feeding, nutrition, shelter, or healthcare by an individual in the position of caretaker. The neglect can be both, active—referring to behavior that is willful—or passive—in which the caregiver is unable to fulfill the elderly person's needs because of illness, disability, stress, ignorance, lack of maturity, or lack of resources.

Elderly people can be neglected by paid caregivers, family members, or employees of care facilities. They may lack the adequate skills, training, time, or energy; or have some other motive in mind, like retribution or hatred.

Any person who relies on another for care is susceptible to neglect, however, those with extreme needs are particularly vulnerable. This is because certain conditions are particularly stressful for caregivers. This includes scenarios where one caregiver must take on responsibilities for extended periods of time, like having nobody to help them with someone who needs care 24/7 or for many years.

It may also include those situations in which the task is particularly difficult or unpleasant like those with incontinence or bowel problems. Patients who have dementia or other hard to deal with states are particularly at risk also.

Indicators include:

  • The condition of the older person's home or room
  • Absence of necessities including food, water, utilities, sufficient space, or ventilation
  • Infestations of bugs or pests
  • Poor personal hygiene including soiled clothing, matted hair, foul odors, or the presence of feces or urine
  • Bedsores, rashes, or other injuries
  • Untreated medical conditions
  • Worsening of mental or health conditions

Those who are being neglected may also show behavior signs that can help identify a problem, especially when the physical signs are not so obvious.

  • Emotional distress (crying, despair, detachment, anger, etc)
  • Sleeping problems (insomnia or sleeping too often)
  • Loss of appetite or concern for hygiene
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Exhibits fear toward the caregiver
  • Making excuses for their caregiver

What to do about it

Family members who believe that their elderly loved one is being abused in some way should report the incident as soon as possible. Depending on the type of abuse, different authorities or people should be contacted.

Some common places or people to contact are:

  • Adult Protective Services (APS), the state agency that oversees the care and well-being of our elderly community, including rights, abuses, and neglect.
  • Law enforcement to report crimes, like physical harm or abuse.
  • Facility management or ownership to report conditions, people, or situations in which an elderly person is being neglected or abused in a facility or from someone employed by an agency.
  • Agencies who monitor elderly care and abusive practices.
  • A personal injury attorney
 Consulting with an Attorney

If you believe that someone or someplace is abusing or allowing the abuse or neglect of your loved one, you should discuss the possibilities of a personal injury case with the skilled elderly abuse lawyer. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA have experience handling these types of cases in Florida, with a proven track record and passion for protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

These types of cases can be complex, however, having someone who understands your rights and the laws can make it significantly easier and more effective. Our team will fight to obtain the maximum amount of compensation possible for your loved one from every liable party.

We are committed to fighting for justice for injured elderly citizens and provide the highest quality of legal assistance in every case. To schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers, call our office today at 727-451-6900 or send us an email through our online contact form.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765

(727) 451-6900



Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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