Elder Abuse

What is Elder Abuse?

Any knowing, intended or careless act that causes harm or serious risk of harm to an older person. Abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age. Unfortunately, elder abuse is highly under-reported due to signs that are difficult to recognize, abuse that is concealed by caregivers and/or family members, lack of knowledge of or access to services, or falsely attributing abuse allegations to dementia.

Types of Elder Abuse


Physical Abuse

The use of force to threaten or physically injure a vulnerable elder Emotional Abuse – Verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, intimidation or belittling acts that cause or could cause mental anguish, pain, or distress to a senior

Sexual Abuse

Sexual contact that is forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced upon a vulnerable elder or person unable to grant consent, forced exposure to pornography

Financial Exploitation

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


A caregiver’s failure or refusal to provide for a vulnerable elder’s safety, physical, or emotional needs: withholding food, medications, heat and/or other basic necessities


Desertion of a frail or vulnerable elder by anyone with a duty of care


An inability to understand the consequences of one’s own actions or inaction, which leads to, or may lead to, harm or endangerment

Warning Signs

  • Sudden changes in personality, withdrawal from normal activities
  • Refusal to engage in usual hygiene activities, bruises around the breasts or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
  • Fear of certain people or severe anxiety, depression
  • Verbalizing conflicts with caregivers and/or an intense desire to leave a home or facility
  • Unexplained bruises or marks, and certain burns or blisters, such as cigarette burns
  • Pressure ulcers, filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration
  • Sudden change in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as “loans” or “gifts,” and loss of property
  • Caregiver complains of workload, attempts to discredit and isolate or makes negative comments about the individual

Barriers to Accessing Services

  • Isolation & lack of transportation
  • Claims of abuse may be passed off as confusion or accounts of past abuse
  • Fear of loss of independence or retaliation from caregiver
  • Relationship to abuser
  • Communication impairments
  • Reliance on others
  • Shame of telling is greater than shame of what happened

Things You Can Do

  • Recognize vulnerability
  • Refrain from assumptions and judgments
  • Speak with the individual in private, be observant and listen
  • Believe, support, and encourage
  • Call Voices Against Violence

To make a report of suspected abuse of an elderly or incapacitated adult call the office of the New Hampshire Division of Elderly and Adult Services: 1-800-351-1888

“As many as 5 MILLION seniors are abused annually in the United States.” 
(U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging)

“It is estimated that for every one case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, or self-neglect reported to authorities, about five more go unreported.” 
(National Elder Abuse Incidence Study. 1998. Washington, DC: National Center on Elder Abuse at American Public Human Services Association.)

National Center on Elder Abuse: ncea@nasua.org