March 01, 2020

Elder abuse and neglect

Know the warning signs

You've noticed that your friend has seemed down lately, and maybe even a little jumpy. You ask if he's feeling okay, but he brushes off your questions. One day, you arrive at his house early and overhear his son screaming at him and berating him. Now you're sure something is very wrong. What do you do?

Unfortunately, this situation is common. Elder mistreatment — including abuse and neglect — happens to older adults living in the community and in residential facilities, and can be perpetrated by caregivers, friends and family. It's important to know the warning signs and what actions to take if you know or suspect that you, a loved one or even an acquaintance is being mistreated.


Elder abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual. Older adults can also be mistreated by caregivers who neglect them, depriving them of basic needs such as adequate food, medication, cleanliness or attention. Older adults are also sometimes exploited, swindled or coerced out of their money and property, a phenomenon known as financial abuse. Sometimes, older adults are unable to take care of themselves, and this is known as self-neglect.

It's very difficult to estimate how commonly older adults are mistreated. Many cases are not reported, as victims may feel ashamed or fear retaliation. One research review found that over the span of a year, an estimated 16% of older adults living in communities — rather than institutional facilities such as nursing homes — throughout the world experienced mistreatment. However, due to underreporting, the real rate...