Physical Elder Abuse

Refers to the use of violence and/or force against an older person in an attempt to cause injury or harm.

What is Physical Elder Abuse

Physical Elder Abuse is when someone uses violence or force against an older person intending to cause harm. It can take many forms.

Physical Violence

Physical elder abuse can take many forms, including punching, kicking, pushing, or grabbing an older person.

Threat of Violence

It also includes threatening an older person with nearly any object such as a gun, knife or another instrument. .

Caretaker Violence

When a paid or family caregiver is unnecessarily rough with an older person (for example, in the course of bathing or toileting a dependent older person).

Physically Restraining

Physically or chemically (with medications) restraining an older person can also be a form of physical elder abuse.

Why Does Physical Elder Abuse Occur?

Physical elder abuse can occur for many reasons.

Mental Health or Substance Abuse Problems

Abusers often have mental health or substance abuse problems, and may be violent with others besides the older adult such as other family members.

Caretaker Stress

Sometimes physical elder abuse occurs for other reasons, such as when a caregiver is stressed out and/or sleepless and frustrated with their caregiving role.

Dementia-Related Behavioral Problems

Sometimes older adults with dementia can themselves develop aggressive or violent behaviors as part of their disease, striking paid and family caregivers who may sometimes retaliate.

We are Working to End Physical Elder Abuse

From research and policy, to direct services, the team at elderabuse.org is focused on one thing: ending elder abuse.

What Harm Can Physical Elder Abuse Cause?

Physical elder abuse can result in serious injuries or even death.

Physical Injuries

Injuries include fractures, lacerations, bruising, and damage to any organ that is injured during physical abuse.

Small Injuries Can Tip People into Poor Health

Because older adults typically have more chronic medical problems than younger people, even minor injuries from physical abuse can “tip” an older adult into poor health and have lasting consequences far greater than a younger person.

Injuries Can Also Destroy Lives

A relatively minor ankle fracture or sprain from elder abuse can cause an older adult already struggling with walking to lose the ability to walk. A younger person would weather such an injury with little consequence. But for an older adult, the implications can be devastating.

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What Can Be Done to Stop Physical Elder Abuse?

Stopping physical abuse starts with recognizing abuse.

Recognize Abuse

Elder abuse-related injuries are often missed as they may be thought to be related to the aging process or a disease. A fracture may be attributed to osteoporosis rather than a shove. Bruising might be attributed to blood thinning medicines commonly taken by older adults rather than a slap or punch.

Action Depends on Circumstances

Once physical abuse is recognized, stopping it depends on the specifics of the situation. Abusers with mental health problems need treatment. Those with substance abuse problems need addiction services. Caregivers who become violent because of burnout need education and relief of their caregiving role.

Separate From Violence

When an older adult is in imminent danger, it is imperative that he or she be separated from the abuser. Sometimes this involves emergency hospitalization of the older person; in other cases, arrest of the abuser may be the best course of action. Prolonged instances of abuse can have escalating consequences.

Emotional Complications

Taking action is often emotionally complicated. The abuser may be a family member and the victim may resist pursing legal remedies and arrest against their loved one. Community services such as social workers and adult protective service professionals may be invaluable resources in this situation.