What Constitutes Elder Abuse?

Posted On June 20, 2019 Nursing Home Abuse

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s elder abuse statistics, around ten percent of elders suffer abuse every year. This estimate is most likely low, as many abuse victims may not be able to report their maltreatment. The aging population is particularly vulnerable to mistreatment as they often are highly dependent on their caregivers, may have declining cognition, and may have limited access to people and resources to help them leave an abusive situation.

Attorney Travis Siegel has advocated for victims of elder abuse for several years. He knows what constitutes elder abuse and how to fight for justice for victims and their families.

Elder Abuse Defined

Elder abuse is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an “intentional act or failure to act by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.” The report defines harm as the disruption of five possible categories of health: physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and financial.

  • Physical health disruption – This category includes physical injuries such as broken bones, cuts, internal injury, preventable diseases, exposure to toxic chemical, mechanical, or electrical conditions, and lack of exposure to appropriate temperatures or oxygen levels.
  • Cognitive health disruption – Severe stress, such as results from elder abuse, can cause cognitive issues. Reduced ability to make decisions and poor memory functions may be the result of maltreatment.
  • Emotional health disruption – Abuse has incalculable effects on its victims. Depression, fear, anxiety, and other mental health issues are considered emotional health disruptions.
  • Social health disruption – Social health refers to an elder’s access to people and social events. Abuse may include restricting an elder’s contact with friends and family. Additionally, emotional disruption can cause abuse victims to withdraw, putting strain on social relationships.
  • Financial health disruption – This category of harm involves exploitation of an older adult’s resources. Such abuse may be new medical costs associated with physical abuse or neglect, loss of property or assets, penalties and fees related to not having available funds for living expenses, or other manifestations of loss associated with the elder’s financial condition.

Forms of Elder Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse can cause harm in multiple categories. Forms of physical abuse include:

  • Physical blows with or without an object
  • Choking
  • Pushing
  • Kicking
  • Pinching
  • Suffocation
  • Burning
  • Force-feeding
  • Hair pulling
  • Unauthorized use of medications
  • Inappropriate use of restraints
  • Physical punishment
  • Sexual abuse

Emotional Abuse

Behaviors that cause fear, dread, anxiety, panic or other emotional distress characterize psychological abuse. Some forms of emotional abuse are:

  • Name calling
  • Insults
  • Yelling
  • Public humiliation
  • Threats of violence, verbal or non-verbal
  • Threats of harm to the elder’s loved ones
  • Threats of institutionalization
  • Harassment
  • Isolation, including false imprisonment
  • Limiting the elder’s movement and travel
  • Restricting interactions with other people
  • Limiting or denying access to phones or mail
  • Ignoring requests of the elder
  • Silent treatment


Withholding and denying what is necessary to meet basic standards of hygiene, health, and general living constitutes neglect of an elder. Neglect has physical consequences but differs from physical abuse in the sense that the physical harm is not done directly in the form of blows or restraint. Instead, neglect involves willful disregard for the elder’s well-being through failing to provide adequate:

  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Climate-appropriate clothing
  • Medical care and supplies
  • Safe and clean living environment
  • Hygiene, grooming, and sanitation

Financial Abuse

Financial exploitation can cost elders in assets, emotional distress, and physical suffering. This is a complicated type of abuse as it can be difficult to distinguish between consensual financial agreements and situations of well-intentioned but poor management of assets or exploitation.

This type of abuse is further complicated when it comes to family member involvement in alleged financial abuse. Family dynamics, history, inheritances, and a desire of the elder to take care of his or her family members can lead to abuse of existing agreements, such as misuse of ATM cards. For example, if a family member stands to inherit money from the elder, he or she may feel entitled to take advances on the inheritance without authorization, and this can be considered abuse. Other types of financial abuse involve:

  • Fraudulent behavior
  • Misappropriating funds or property
  • Identity theft
  • Forgery
  • Abuse of a position of trust such as using power of attorney for unauthorized or inappropriate purposes
  • Restricting or denying the older adult access to their finances or property
  • Altering the older adult’s will
  • Personal property theft
  • Using manipulation and misrepresentation to procure a signature from the elder regarding financial or property transactions
  • Excessive charges for caregiving
  • Negligence in the management of the elder’s assets

Elder Abusers

The listed behaviors and actions constitute abuse regardless of what type of caregiver initiates them or whether the abuse takes place domestically or in a care facility. Caregivers are those entrusted to provide assistance to an elder in their day-to-day activities.

  • Informal caregivers include family members, spouses, partners, or close friends.
  • Formal caregivers are individuals hired to provide care as a volunteer or worker.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 90 percent of elders do not live in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or other group living establishments. Thus, most elder abuse happens outside of such facilities. According to Psychology Today, most abuse toward older adults is attributable to a family member, and partners or spouses perpetrate about 25 percent of that abuse.

In-home caregivers are another group responsible for many cases of older adult abuse. According to the AARP, home-care workers are often hired and put to work without proper training or screening. They are also frequently underpaid and work long hours. When you designate a caregiver for your loved one, you are putting an incredible amount of trust in them. As such, it’s important to do what you can to hire the right person.

Contact Us for a Complimentary Consultation

If you notice signs of elder abuse, it is important to take steps to protect the victim. You can report the abuse in a few ways to get an investigation started. One of those routes is to contact an elder abuse lawyer.

For elder abuse cases in Southern California, contact Siegel Law at (562) 645-4145. We are dedicated to advocating for the elderly population and will review your case at no cost. We serve Irvine, Santa Ana, Tustin, Huntington Beach, and all nearby areas.


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If your elderly loved one is being abused or mistreated, learn how our attorney can help you. You can reach us by calling (562) 372-6904 or using the form below.

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