Elder Abuse

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver, family member or intimate partner. Legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws.  For the state of Missouri, Chapter 565 of the Missouri State Statutes discusses the abuse of the elderly and disabled.  

Who are the Perpetrators?

  • Spouses or intimate partners
  • Caregivers and/or family members
  • Staff members of a nursing home or long term care facility

Types of Elder Abuse

Domestic Elder Abuse

Domestic violence is an escalating pattern of violence or intimidation by an intimate partner, which issued to gain power and control. Several categories of domestic violence against the elderly have been identified:

"Domestic violence grown old" is when domestic violence started earlier in life and persists into old age. Often the adult children have left the house and are in limited contact with their parents because of the strain the abuse put on the family unit.

"Late onset domestic violence" begins in old age. There may have been a strained relationship or emotional abuse earlier in life that became worse as the partners aged. When abuse begins or is exacerbated in old age, it is likely to be linked to:  

  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Changing roles of family members
  • Sexual changes

Some older people enter into abusive relationships late in life. An older adult’s spouse might havedied; therefore, the individual is lonely and enter into a relationship that is not healthy. 

Institutional Elder Abuse

Institutional Elder Abuse refers to mistreatment occurring in residential facilities (such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, group home, board and care facility, foster home, etc.) and is usually perpetrated by someone with a legal or contractual obligation to provide some element of care or protection.

Forms of Elder Abuse

Laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one state to another, but broadly defined abuse may be: 


Physical Abuse
—inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior ( e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means) 

Sexual Abuse—non-consensual sexual contact of any kind

Neglect—the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder

Exploitation—the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else's benefit

Emotional Abuse—inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts ( e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening)

Abandonment—desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person

Self-neglect—characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety

Recognizing the Warning Signs
  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be indications of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and/or unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area may occur from sexual abuse
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also potential signs of abuse

Most importantly, be alert. If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.

Reporting Elder Abuse

Resources for Support and Assistance

In order to report elder abuse, you have several different avenues:


These agencies can assist with providing resources and/or determining if the behavior is abusive or criminal in nature. 


Additional Resources: