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Elder Abuse

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. An older adult is someone age 60 or older. The abuse often occurs at the hands of a caregiver or a person the elder trusts.


Common types of elder abuse include:

  • Physical abuse is when an elder experiences illness, pain, injury, functional impairment, distress, or death as a result of the intentional use of physical force and includes acts such as hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, and burning.

  • Sexual abuse involves forced or unwanted sexual interaction of any kind with an older adult. This may include unwanted sexual contact or penetration or non-contact acts such as sexual harassment.

  • Emotional or Psychological Abuse refers to verbal or nonverbal behaviors that inflict anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress on an older adult. Examples include humiliation or disrespect, verbal and non-verbal threats, harassment, and geographic or interpersonal isolation.

  • Neglect is the failure to meet an older adult’s basic needs. These needs include food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care.

  • Financial Abuse is the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an elder’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the older adult.

Is elder abuse a big problem?

Elder abuse is a serious problem in the United States. The available information is an underestimate of the problem because the number of nonfatal injuries is limited to older adults who are treated in emergency departments. The information doesn’t include those treated by other providers or those that do not need or do not seek treatment. Additionally, many cases are not reported because elders are afraid or unable to tell police, friends, or family about the violence. Victims often have to decide whether to tell someone they are being hurt or continue being abused by someone they depend upon or care for deeply.


Elder abuse is common. Abuse, including neglect and exploitation, is experienced by about 1 in 10 people aged 60 and older who live at home. From 2002 to 2016, more than 643,000 older adults were treated in the emergency department for nonfatal assaults and over 19,000 homicides occurred.

What are the consequences?

Elder abuse can have several physical and emotional effects on an older adult. Many victims suffer physical injuries. Some are minor, like cuts, scratches, bruises, and welts. Others are more serious and can cause lasting disabilities. These include head injuries, broken bones, constant physical pain, and soreness. Physical injuries can also lead to premature death and make existing health problems worse.


Elder abuse can have emotional effects as well. Victims are often fearful and anxious. They may have problems with trust and be wary around others.

How can we prevent elder abuse before it starts?

There are several important things we can do to prevent elder abuse:

  •  Listen to older adults and their caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support.

  • Report abuse or suspected abuse to Adult Protective Services.

  • Educate oneself and others about how to recognize and report elder abuse.

  • Learn how the signs of elder abuse differ from the normal aging process.

  • Check-in often on older adults who may have few friends and family members.

  • Provide over-burdened caregivers with support such as:

  • help from friends, family, or local relief care groups

  • adult day care programs

  • counseling

  • outlets intended to promote emotional well-being

  • Encourage and assist persons (either caregivers or older adults) having problems with drug or alcohol abuse in getting help.


The older adult population is growing faster in the U.S. than are younger populations. Many older adults require care and are vulnerable to violence perpetrated by a caregiver or someone they trust. More research is needed to uncover the causes for, and solutions to, violence against older adults.

Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

How Do I Report Elder Abuse?

To report abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an elder or an adult with disabilities, please contact your local law enforcement agency, local state's attorney's office or contact Dakota at Home or Adult Protective Services.



Division of Adult Services and Aging

2001 9th Avenue SW
Suite 300
Watertown, South Dakota 57201

605-882-5003 or Toll-Free 1-866-239-6787

Aging and Disabilities Resource Connections Call Center: 1-855-315-1988

National Center on Elder Abuse

The Eldercare Locator  1-800-677-1116

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