7 Common Types of Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

7 common types of elder abuse in nursing homes

Elder abuse continues to be a serious problem in our society. According to the NCOA, as many as 5 million elders are abused in the U.S. each year, and they have a 300% higher risk of death than elders who have not been abused.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we protect the most vulnerable demographic in our society from anything that may be detrimental to their health. While many people may be vigilant about its more obvious forms, such as physical abuse, there are other forms of elder abuse that are much harder to identify, such as emotional or financial abuse, which can be equally debilitating.

The National Center on Elder Abuse distinguishes between seven different types of elder abuse. The more you learn about them, the more you can do to prevent an already underreported phenomenon during these delicate times.

What Constitutes Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment–either through a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action–that harms an older person in some way. It is committed by someone who the victim trusts or is expected to trust, such as a professional caretaker, a nurse, a doctor, or a family member. In truth, anyone who has power over an elderly person and intentionally harms them or puts them at risk of harm (through neglect, for example) has committed elder abuse.

What Are the 7 Types of Elder Abuse?

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment.

This can include the use of physical violence, such as hitting, punching, shaking, slapping, striking with an object, kicking, or burning. It also includes threats of violence and being unnecessarily rough with an elder, such as during bathing or dressing. Restricting the movement of an elder either physically or through the inappropriate use of medications also constitutes physical abuse.

Some physical signs of elder abuse include:

  • Broken bones
  • Cuts
  • Bruises
  • Tooth loss
  • Dislocated joints
  • Signs of self-treated injuries
  • Burns
  • Sudden or unexplained hair loss

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person. This includes unwelcome touching, groping, coerced nudity, rape, sodomy, and any sexual contact through either the use of force or with a person unable to legally give consent–such as an elder with a mental disorder like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse constitutes the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or non-verbal acts. This includes shouting, insulting, or cursing at the victim, as well as threats of physical violence, intimidation, or humiliation. Other devious forms of psychological manipulation include isolating the elder by cutting them off from friends, family, or social networks. Another common tactic is when a perpetrator identifies something that matters to an elder and then uses it to coerce them into a particular action.

While emotional abuse may sometimes not be visibly evident, it can be a silent killer. The fear or distress caused by psychological abuse can have severe consequences on the overall health of a person. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to identify because the aggressions lead to symptoms that are already common among patients with dementia or depression, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to themselves. If a patient starts to exhibit these signs, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and not overlook their potential causes.

Financial/Material Exploitation

Financial/material abuse happens when there is an illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets. Examples of this include stealing assets from the elder by either forging their signature, committing identity theft, cashing their checks without permission, or using their credit or debit card to either make purchases or withdraw cash.

It can also include taking control of assets by changing names on a will, getting property deeds, or accessing an inheritance.


Neglect is a refusal, or failure, to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder. Neglect is not accidental–it stems from a lack of regard for a person’s wellbeing, and this can be just as harmful as other type of elder abuse.

Neglect typically occurs when the caretaker fails to adequately provide for basic things an elder needs, such as food, water, clothing, personal hygiene, medication, shelter, and anything essential that the caretaker is entrusted with.


Self-neglect occurs when an elder who can no longer take care of themselves refuses or does not seek help, leading to a decline in wellbeing. This can manifest itself in the elder’s refusal or failure to provide himself/herself with adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medication, and safety precautions.

The causes of self-neglect vary but it often stems from the fact that many older adults struggle with letting go of their independence and the idea that they may need help. While this spark of pride can seem innocuous on the surface, it can be dangerous when it leads to a rapid decline in wellbeing exhibited by things like:

  • Bedsores or rashes
  • Lack of food in the home
  • Unpaid bills
  • Poor sleep
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Dehydration or weight loss
  • Untreated infections or injuries


Abandonment is the desertion of an elderly person by an individual who has physical custody of the elder or by a person who has assumed responsibility for providing care to the elder.

An elder may have been abandoned if they are along and:

  • Look confused, lost, scared, lonely, or depressed
  • Seem frail, malnourished, or dehydrated
  • Have poor hygiene

What is the Punishment for Elder Abuse?

Under California Penal Code Section 368, elder abuse can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the level of crime committed by the individual. A misdemeanor conviction for PC 368 carries up to one year in the county jail and a fine not exceeding $6,000. A felony conviction carries a sentencing range of 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison and a fine not exceeding $6,000.

If you think your family member, friend, or neighbor is a victim of elder abuse or neglect, it is essential that you report it. Seniors often fail to report abuse due to inability, fear of retaliation or embarrassment.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Elder Abuse?

If you’d like to file a civil lawsuit against an abuser, the statute of limitations for elder abuse in California states that a lawsuit must be filed within two years of the intentional or negligent act. However, if the victim has a physical or mental incapacitation or the injury did not manifest itself until a later date, there are exceptions to the two-year statute.

Also, financial crimes have a different statute of limitations in California. From the date the financial abuse was discovered, you have four years to file in civil court.

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Your case may seem overwhelming in the beginning, but there are others who have been in similar situations and found a way forward. Our team can help you make the next steps. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation with an elder abuse lawyer.