Physical & Financial Elder Abuse: What You Can Do

For many people, the term “elder abuse” brings to mind a scam artist selling a bogus financial investment to older people. You may have seen ads from the local district attorney’s office showing bruised faces of elderly people who have suffered abuse. But what does the term really mean?

The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as “any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person.” It is usually categorized according to the specific type of abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, psychological abuse, financial abuse, and neglect or self-neglect.

This article focuses on physical abuse and financial abuse.

Physical Elder Abuse

Physical abuse can occur in just about any setting, from the elder’s own home, to nursing homes, or anywhere the elder resides. With seniors being the fastest growing segment of our population, elder abuse is a problem across the country, in part because seniors are vulnerable. With families often scattered across the state, if not the country, it’s common for adult children to live far away from their elderly parents. When they assume responsibility for the care of their parents, they must rely on caregivers who work in the facility their loved one lives in, or homecare workers who care for the elder at home. Taking care of elders in declining health can be difficult and frustrating, sometimes causing the caregivers to lose patience and take their frustrations out on the elder.

Family members are not exempt from these frustrations. In fact, family caregivers constitute a large percentage of elder abusers. Any physical abuse is inexcusable, but there have even been cases of abuse resulting in death, the most extreme and tragic consequence of the overwhelming burden of caring for an elder. When a family caregiver feels trapped with this long-term responsibility, especially when faced with the financial strain of paying for the care of a dependent parent or relative, the elder may be at risk for physical abuse.

Unqualified caregivers are another problem, as the work is physically demanding, the jobs hard to fill, and the pay may be low compared with other occupations. Also, the states generally do not license homecare workers, and there is no standard for training them—except for certified nursing assistants, many of whom work in long-term care institutions rather than in private homes. All of these factors contribute to a large number of unqualified, unskilled caregivers taking care of elders at home. Because home caregivers may work largely unsupervised, especially when the adult children live afar, there is ample opportunity to mistreat elderly clients.

Financial Elder Abuse

Financial abuse is a different kind of problem. The opportunity for abuse arises when an elder loses the ability to effectively manage his or her own finances. The decline may be gradual; that is, often there is no clear line of demarcation between the point when one can pay his or her own bills and handle money, and the point at which it is clear that the senior is no longer able to manage finances. People in positions of trust, such as adult children, grandchildren, and even unrelated caregivers can take advantage of the declining mental capacity of a vulnerable elder and prey upon this incapacity.

Greed is the common denominator in financial elder abuse, no matter who commits it. The ruthless taking of finances from a person who does not realize that he or she is being “ripped off” is the manifestation of greed. It is sad to witness, and sad to hear about. Caregivers from faraway places may believe that they can get away with this form of theft, as they can return to another country and not get caught. A family member with a drug problem might be able to persuade Grandma, who trusts him, to let him go to the bank and withdraw money, using a credible explanation without arousing her suspicion. I have seen family members persuade the elder to give them a “loan” of thousands of dollars, never intending to pay it back, or never able to do so. When the elder eventually really needs the money, and there is nothing, it is the elder who suffers.

What You Can Do if You Suspect Abuse

Elder abuse is a crime both in its physical and financial forms. Hitting, yelling, depriving the elder of assistance, threatening harm, and other forms of physical abuse must be dealt with immediately. A person who is suspected of wrongly taking the elder’s money must also be dealt with immediately. Many counties across the country have some form of Adult Protective Services agency. If you believe or have evidence that an elder is being abused, call APS immediately. Other counties have similar services which should be utilized. Your local Area Agency on Aging is another resource to turn to if you suspect elder abuse. The district attorney’s office will prosecute these abusers when sufficient evidence exists to get a conviction. The criminal court can order the abuser to make restitution in the form of money, but the court itself does not give money to the victim in a criminal case of financial elder abuse.

Victims of abuse also have what is called a “civil remedy,” which is filing a lawsuit in court seeking a monetary judgment. The same law which protects elders against financial abuse protects against physical abuse and neglect. In some states the law gives lawyers incentives to accept cases of elder abuse and neglect by providing for attorneys’ fees and other things which are generally not allowed in other kinds of civil cases. Such cases can be lengthy and difficult, but it may be the only recourse available.

Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, Attorney at Law, R.N., is a founder of and She is a consultant and mediator, teaming with a psychologist, providing direct services and informational products for those caring for aging loved ones. She can be reached at or at (866) 962-4464.

5 months, said...

We are running into a similar issue our parents made our sister an authorized signer on there account and she has spent most of the money on her own debts. We only found out after our parents died how she was spending there money. Can we have her charged in any way. Please help we don't want her to get away with what she did

almost 7 years, said...

The number of individuals perpetrating financial elder abuse pales in comparison to the institutional abuse from large insurance companies. They are protected by the law and can sell unsuitable annuities to elderly clients who do not understand them. This practice is wide scale and nationwide.

about 7 years, said...

We had a caregiver abuse situation in our family in San Diego CA and APS did nothing. APS said they would put the caregiver's name down in a database of abusers but that we should be glad the person didn't take more from our grandparents. Mind you, this woman had stolen several valuables (cash and jewelry), was set to move into their home after moving them into assisted living, and was even driving their car. She even held a garage sale in their garage after moving them into assisted living. It was truly a nightmare. We spoke to local authorities, a lawyer and neither were willing to help. It basically left our family with no recourse. Basically the best thing a family can do is get involved immediately. Move your parents/grandparents out of the situation and into a safe environment. Take control of the accounts/estate immediately and end the caregiver's interactions with them.

about 7 years, said...

omg - i can so relate to the "choke-hold" scenario. My dad's live in female companion in his assisted living apartment for the past 3 years was emotionally abusive not only to me, but to my father. She was controlling, manipulative, argumentative and was successful at building a huge wall between my father and I - but my dad, who suffers from end stage COPD and moderate Dementia did not see this.. For 3 years, I felt helpless to take any action against her because my dad was so dependent on her for his care and was so "in love" with her, to do anything meant I'd lose my relationship with my dad. She made my life a living hell. As an example, my father has been under the care of Hospice for several months, and his wishes are NO MORE DOCTORS! As his POA, it's my job to ensure his last wishes are carried out. Recently, I had to put my foot down with her, because she insisted on taking my dad to a pulmonologist for a 'check up" and to have his meds reviewed because she's not as "vested" in Hospice as I am. In an email to her, I copied in her daughters for their help and support, and firmly, but politely told her "NO!" Well, I apparently crossed the line by including her daughters, and she promptly announced she was leaving "because of me," and turned my dad against me in the process. She's gone, thank God, but continues to stir the pot with phone calls and emails.. A final email she sent pretending to be my dad, was was the most toxic, vile letter I have ever read.. My dad's social worker from Hospice said she believes this lady has characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder.. and it fits.. There just is no reasoning with her... My brother has since moved in with my dad to care for him, but I'm left with the rubble of her wake - and will never enjoy the relationship I once had with my dad.. So I fully understand why caregivers are reluctant to turn in someone.. Losing the love of their loved one is almost worse...

about 7 years, said...

As the Founder of CaringPeople, Inc, a private duty home care company, we were recently called into a household where the family discovered that an aide from local agency was stealing. The aide was writing checks to herself and forging signatures, and it had been going on for months and perhaps years. We immediately proposed removing the aide. The family was resistant due to the longevity the aide had with their parent. In this case, the abuse was not only obvious financial fraud, but an emotional "choke-hold" this caregiver had over the client and the family. It is important to understand the emotional toll of abuse; it is not uncommon to find scenarios where the client and their family are resistant to replacing an inadequate aide due to fear of retribution. This is especially true when hiring private caregivers from disreputable agencies. We strongly encourage clients and the elderly to speak up and let their family/guardians and agency about any concerns they have or any feelings of anxiety they have about their care. Steven East, CEO and President Caring People Home Healthcare Agency Servicing New York, New Jersey and Florida

about 7 years, said...

The Administration on Aging's National Center on Elder Abuse also has information and initiatives to address this serious problem, including an annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to get more people educated and involved. Fact sheets and other materials can be found on their website here: