When a Family Member Causes Harm


For many older persons, family represents comfort and belonging, and home is typically considered a safe environment. However, 25 years ago this country finally recognized a national hidden problem called “elder abuse and neglect.”


The term elder abuse and neglect, or elder mistreatment, usually implies that a family member is doing something hurtful to an older relative – physically, emotionally, or financially. These hurtful actions might occur only once, periodically, or frequently. They can be done purposefully or accidentally and can result in mild, moderate, or severe pain or suffering. They usually occur in the older person’s own home. If this unacceptable behavior is happening to you, you are not alone – these hurtful things are happening to over 1 million older Americans each year. Help is available.


Who Is Likely To Be Hurt by a Family Member?

Anyone age 60 or older might be a victim of elder abuse. Victims are men and women from all ethnic backgrounds and financial situations (rich, middle class, and poor). They can be healthy or sick, with or without memory problems. The person sitting next to you in the doctor’s office, on the bus, or at a religious service could be an elder abuse victim. This person could be you.


Who Hurts Older Relatives?

Any family member could be abusive or neglectful, but the most likely to act this way are adult children. They are likely to live with the parent they are abusing and to be financially and emotionally dependent on the parent, making for a strained and difficult – and, at times, dangerous – relationship. Other abusive family members may be spouses, adult grandchildren, or other relatives, such as nieces, nephews, cousins, stepchildren or stepgrandchildren, or siblings. It is not unusual to still love the family member who is being hurtful.

What Are Some Examples of Elder Abuse and Neglect?

How Does and Older Person React When Abuse Happens?

How Do I Tell If I Am Being Abused or Neglected?

What Should I Do If A Family Member is Hurting Me?

Where to Get Help

This resource provides brief, general information about this topic. It does not take the place of specific instructions you may receive from health care or service providers. Copyright NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital 2006. All rights reserved.