Identifying Elder Abuse, Part 1: Overview and Abuse to the Body and Mind

Tragically, reports of elder abuse have become increasingly common.  We hear about elder abuse on the news, and in conversations with family, friends and co-workers.  This two part blog series is designed to provide a brief overview as to what elder abuse is.

California has created laws specifically designed to protect the elderly and dependent adults.  To be considered an “elder” for purposes of these elder abuse statutes, a person must be 65 years of age or older.  In addition, certain vulnerable persons aged 18 to 64 are considered “dependent adults” that qualify for the protection given to elders under the elder abuse statutes.  California law identifies elder abuse in three major categories: 1) physical elder abuse, 2) emotional elder abuse, and 3) financial elder abuse.

Physical Elder Abuse

Physical elder abuse can occur when an elder or dependent adult suffers physical harm at the hands of the abuser.  Physical elder abuse is more expansive than physical violence; physical elder abuse can also encompass situations where certain persons neglect or fail to help an elder or dependent adult.  For example, someone who fails to provide necessary care, food, clothing, medication, or shelter that results in physical harm to an elder or dependent adult may be found liable for physical elder abuse.

Emotional Elder Abuse

Emotional elder abuse can occur when an elder or dependent adult is isolated or confined.  Many elder abusers isolate victims from their family, friends, pets, or personal items.  In many situations victims can be confined or locked in a room.  Emotional elder abuse can also occur by way of threats, bullying, or intimidation.

Emotional elder abuse, and specifically isolation, is usually an early warning sign that financial elder abuse is occurring, or about to occur.  A common form of emotional elder abuse occurs when an abuser withholds emotional support, often because the abuser is trying to get money or property from the elder or dependent adult.  Many abusers initially befriend an elder or dependent adult in a disarming social setting, such as at church or a dinner event, then proceed to meet with the elder or dependent adult alone, usually at the elder’s home, work to isolate the elder or dependent adult from his/her friends and family, and after a personal relationship is established, perpetrate financial elder abuse.

In part two of this blog series, we’ll discuss financial elder abuse, remedies that are available to elder abuse victims, and provide some links to useful elder abuse prevention resources available to the public.