Elder abuse occurs when an elder person is mistreated. Elder abuse may consist of sexual or physical abuse. Elder abuse may also consist of emotional abuse or financial exploitation. Abandonment of an elderly person and neglect of an elderly person are also types of elder abuse.

Most state laws make elder abuse a crime, a violation of state civil law, or both.

What are the Types of Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse consists of one or more of the following:

  • Physical abuse. Physical abuse is defined as the use of force that results or is intended  to result in injury. Hitting, pushing, slapping, striking, and beating are common examples of physical abuse. Acts of restraint also constitute physical abuse. Acts of restraint include restraining an individual, for the purpose of restricting their movement, force-feeding, or medication administration. The amount of force required for an act to be elder abuse may be slight. For example, grabbing the arm of an elderly person can constitute elder abuse;
  • Sexual Abuse. Sexual abuse of an elderly person involves sexual contact with an elderly person, without their consent. This type of abuse can occur when consent is denied. Sexual abuse may also occur if the elderly individual lacks the mental or physical capacity to consent. Types of sexual abuse may include undesired touching or feeling, lewd innuendo, and undesired comments about sexual activity. Sexual abuse also consists of sexual assault, rape, battery, or molestation; 
  • Emotional abuse. Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, is an act that results in emotional distress, pain, or suffering. Emotional abuse may consist of:
    • Verbal assaults or threats;
    • Insults;
    • Words that are used to intimidate or humiliate; or
    • Intentionally remaining silent upon hearing an elderly individual’s statement or request.
  • Elder neglect. Elder neglect occurs when an individual responsible for caring for an adult neglects to attend to the elderly person’s care. Care consists of one or more of the following activities:
    • Providing food, water and shelter;
    • Attending to an elder person’s grooming and hygiene; or
    • Ensuring the elderly individual is kept safe.

Neglect may be committed by a relative in the home, or by staff in a nursing home. Neglect may be passive or active. Neglect is considered passive when the person responsible for care unintentionally fails to care for the elderly individual. This might occur, for example, because the caregiver forgets to take care of the elderly individual, or becomes distracted by something else and fails to attend to the individual. In contrast, active neglect occurs intentionally, or on purpose; 

  • Financial exploitation. An individual financially exploits an elderly person when the individual engages in acts constituting theft, duress, or fraud against that person. Theft occurs when the individual steals money or property from the elderly individual. Duress occurs when a person applies force or the threat of force against the elderly individual, against that individual’s free will. 
    • Duress may occur when someone coerces an elderly person to sign a financial document, thus giving the person committing the coercion an improper financial benefit. Fraud occurs when a person, with the intent to deceive, misrepresents facts or circumstances to obtain money from an elderly individual. Examples of fraud include Ponzi schemes, telemarketing or email marketing activities promising a financial benefit that is never given, and lying about the nature of a legal document the fraudster asks the elderly person to sign;
  • Elder abandonment. A person who is the caregiver of an elderly person commits elder abandonment leaves the elderly person alone without returning. Abandonment may occur when the elderly person is left alone in a store, a medical office, or a home. Abandonment can also occur when caregiver refuses to perform caregiver duties; and
  • Healthcare abuse. Healthcare abuse, or healthcare fraud, occurs when a provider of healthcare services (e.g., a doctor, nurse, or member of a hospital’s staff) engages in fraud with respect to an elderly person’s healthcare. This type of abuse or fraud may consist of:
    • Overcharging an elderly individual for medical treatment;
    • Billing an elderly individual for treatment without actually providing the treatment;
    • Improperly medicating an individual. This may occur by failing to administer the correct dose, or otherwise failing to administer medication in accordance with prescription instructions;
    • Suggesting or providing worthless “remedies”; and
    • Using the unwitting assistance of an elderly individual to commit fraud that involves Medicare or Medicaid.   

What Are the Penalties for Elder Abuse?

An individual who commits elder abuse may be liable for (may be sued for money for) assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, and other activities prohibited under civil law (as opposed to criminal law). Elder abuse may also be prosecuted as a criminal offense.  

Many state criminal codes define elder abandonment, sexual abuse, and fraud committed against an elderly person, as crimes. These offenses may be classified as misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to a year in jail, or as felonies, which are punishable by more than a year in jail. 

Do I Need the Help of Lawyer if I Am Accused of Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse can be a civil offense, a crime, or both. If you are accused of, or believe you are the victim of, elder abuse, you should contact a family lawyer. An experienced family law attorney can explain your rights, advise you as to your options, and can represent you in court.