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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Elder Abuse

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 7th 2007

There is another type of abuse that occurs with horrifying frequency but is often over looked by the medical community and it is referred to as Elder Abuse. It is estimated that 36 million Americans are now 65 years old or older. Each year there are more than one half a million cases of elder abuse reported to the authorities. It is believed that the numbers are greatly underestimated because huge numbers of cases go unreported. It is important to note that the National Institute of Mental Health reports that most elder abuse occurs at the hands of relatives such as adult children and adult grandchildren of the elder person who have care taker responsibility. Therefore, most of the abuse occurs in the home of the elderly person.

It is also important to keep in mind that this article deals only with abuse that occurs at home. There disturbingly large numbers elder abuse that occurs in nursing homes.

According to the AARP (American Association for Retired Persons) there are four types of elder abuse that occur:

1. Physical and Sexual Abuse often appear on the elderly. Too often these are dismissed as accidents resulting from either falling or bruising easily. Besides suspicious bruises appearing one of the symptoms that abuse has occurred is when the elderly person withdraws and becomes silent and depressed. Another symptom is when authorities and social service agencies are prohibited from visiting the elderly in their home there is then strong suspicion that the bruises and marks are not accidental.

2. Emotional and psychological abuse is also prevalent among the elderly. This occurs when family members insult, threaten and socially isolate the individual. This type of abuse also results in withdrawal into depression and hopelessness.

3. Neglect or desertion is defined as the refusal of caregivers (usually family) to provide adequate food, water and medical attention so that the patient becomes dehydrated, loses dangerous amounts of weight and becomes filthy because their needs are not met. In many cases elderly people are left behind in their old neighborhoods and apartment buildings long after family has moved away. The apartment buildings occupied by these long time elderly tenants often do not have adequate heat and running water. According to several studies neglect and desertion are the most frequent types of elder abuse.

4. Financial exploitation is the fourth type of abuse and can occur at the hands of family or strangers who learn how to prey upon what they view as easy victims to be exploited. Ruthless and greedy family members also prey upon their elderly parents and grandparents by convincing them to turn over their money to them, ostensibly so that they can oversee and protect the funds. Too often this becomes an excuse to steal the funds for their own selfish purposes.

With the elderly population increasing in numbers thanks to improved health care and greater longevity the issues of quality of life, Alzheimers disease, retirement locations and, finally, elder abuse, are serious issues.

More information is available at an excellent web site called the Center for Elder Abuse and that can be found at the following URL:

Your comments are encouraged

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

- - Mar 15th 2009

Children are not brought up these day to have respect for their elders and therefore they are cultured in thinking they can talk anyhow and behave in unseemly ways then they become in to adult hood... If properly trained the abuse of elders would be mininised as children would be cultured to see about their parenys.... we are to blame for this problem


emotional abuse - - Feb 22nd 2009
I feel that emotional abuse could be hard to prove. My father died 2/16/09, in the morning and by that afternoon my nephew was at my mothers home causing trouble. He got in a fight with my son and they are both in their 40's. My mother tried to stop the fight, she is 84, and my nephew got in front of her and in her face he said, "What the f--k are you going to do about it." This told me that was not the first time that this has happened. He also hit me in the chest and pushed me and I am 62. He was totally out of control and we were all afraid of him. He had been drinking and possibly on drugs. He went to jail that night, but bonded out and my mom and I went to a motel that night, because we were afraid. The sheriffs department should have filed a report on elder abuse, but I don't think they did. Our public servents are not protecting us as they were ask to do.

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