What Is Elder Abuse?

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Elder abuse is when someone harms or threatens to harm an older adult’s health or welfare. Abuse may be verbal, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional. It can take place anywhere, including in the older person’s home, nursing home, or assisted living facility. 

Types of Abuse

Elder abuse can take different forms. Some of the most common forms of elder abuse include verbal abuse, physical abuse, financial exploitation, emotional abuse, and neglect.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any act that hurts or injures someone. This includes things like hitting, pushing, strangling, pinching, hair pulling, shaking, burning, and using drugs and physical restraints in an inappropriate way. 

Sexual Abuse 

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual conduct without a person’s consent. This can involve: 

  • Physical sex acts
  • Threats of unwanted sexual contact
  • Remarks about intimate body parts
  • Rough or inappropriate with intimate body parts during care
  • Forcing the person to watch sex acts
  • Forcing the person to undress

This can also include unwanted sexual conduct by a spouse. 

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is using someone’s money or property without their permission. Some examples of financial exploitation include:

  • Scams
  • Misusing or stealing money 
  • Spending or over spending money without permission
  • Coercing someone to sign a document 
  • Cashing checks without permission 
  • Forging a signature 
  • Coercing someone to give away money or belongings 

Emotional Abuse 

Emotional abuse is when a person is treated in a way that causes emotional or psychological pain or distress. Some examples of emotional abuse include:

  • Intimidation 
  • Verbal assaults 
  • Threats
  • Humiliation
  • Harassment 
  • Name calling
  • Isolation, for example, denying access to family members or church
  • Destruction of property 
  • Limiting access to areas of the house, such as the kitchen or bathroom
  • Misleading or lying to family members about victim’s health or illness 
  • Harm to pets 
  • Showing off of weapons 
  • Removing access to basic needs, such as phone, transportation, medication, walker, etc.


Neglect is when someone with a responsibility to care for a person refuses or fails to do so. This can also include self-neglect. Some examples of neglect include: 

  • Denial or long waits for food, heat, care, or medication
  • Not reporting medical problems
  • Failing to follow medical, therapy, or safety recommendations
  • Refusal to dress, clean, or bathe person appropriately 
  • Failure to clean or keep home safe 

Signs of Elder Abuse

It can be hard to recognize elder abuse. It often goes unreported and the abuser is often a family member, friend, or caregiver of the victim. Sometimes, signs of elder abuse can be mistaken for symptoms of old age. Many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse overlap with symptoms of declining mental health, but should not be overlooked. 

A common sign of elder abuse is tension or frequent arguments between an older adult and a caregiver. Another common sign of abuse is a change in the personality or behavior of the older adult. For more examples of signs of elder abuse, read What Are Some Signs That I or Someone I Know Might Be or Have Been A Victim of Elder Abuse? on the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative website. 

Preventing Elder Abuse

There are steps you can take to try to prevent elder abuse. Some steps you can take to reduce your risk of being abused, neglected, or exploited are:

  • Stay connected to your community and other people
  • Have family members and friends visit you often
  • Screen caregivers for criminal backgrounds
  • Make sure caregivers have the proper certifications
  • Name someone you trust as your patient advocate in a durable power of attorney for health care and/or durable power of attorney for finances

Alternatives to Guardianship and Conservatorship

If you are considering guardianship or conservatorship to stop or prevent elder abuse, it is important to consider these options carefully. Guardianship is a court process that appoints a person to make personal decisions for someone who can’t make those decisions for themselves. These decisions can include basic choices like whether to marry or divorce, where to live, what doctors you see, and how your money is spent. 

Conservatorship is a similar court process that appoints a person to make decisions about someone else’s property and finances. A conservator can decide to sell your home and your belongings even if it is against your wishes. The court can decide to appoint a stranger to make these decisions for you if there is not a suitable family member or trusted friend. Having a guardian or conservator appointed when it is not necessary can lead to elder abuse.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, there are alternatives available. A financial or health care power of attorney can let someone you trust to make decisions for you. A social security representative payee can handle your social security funds and pay your bills. Your local area agency on aging can give you information on resources available in the community such as meals on wheels or in home care.

What You Can Do if You Are Being Abused

If you are being abused, there are things you can do to address the abuse. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Report the Abuse

Certain professionals, like doctors and social workers, have a legal duty to report elder abuse if they suspect it. Anyone can report suspected abuse or neglect at any time by contacting Adult Protective Services (APS) at (855) 444-3911. This hotline is available 24 hours per day. APS is part of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). It works with mental and public health agencies, law enforcement, the probate courts, the aging network, community groups, and the general public.

To report abuse in a nursing facility, you can call the Attorney General's Health Care Fraud Division on their statewide hotline, 800-24-ABUSE (800-242-2873). If you want help and are a resident of a licensed nursing home, adult foster care home, or home for the aged, you can contact your local long term care ombudsman at 866-485-9393.

Remove Someone Named in a Power of Attorney 

If you named someone to act for you in a power of attorney and that person is abusing or exploiting you, you can take away their power. You can revoke (cancel) your power of attorney at any time, even if you have been told you do not have capacity to make your own decisions. To learn more, read Making a Health Care Power of Attorney.

If someone you know is being abused by a person named in a power of attorney, you can ask the judge to remove them. Any interested person can file a petition in probate court to ask a judge to do this. The process can be complicated, and you may want to speak to a lawyer. If you have low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area.

Remove a Guardian or Conservator 

If you or someone you know is being abused by a guardian or conservator, the only way to remove that person is to ask a judge. Any interested person can file a petition in probate court to ask a judge to remove an abusive guardian or conservator. The process can be complicated, and you may want to speak to a lawyer. If you have low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area.