What is Elder Abuse? Definitions & Meanings

This post is a part of our guide series to support anyone who may have been a victim of Elder Abuse in the past or has questions around the topic:

What is Elder Abuse? Definitions & Meanings
Who Commits Elder Abuse & Why?
What are the Signs & Symptoms of Elder Abuse?
Handling & Dealing with Elder Abuse
How to Report Elder Abuse (and Who to Report it to)
How can Elder Abuse be Prevented?
Elder Abuse Data & Statistics
Elder Abuse Helplines, Support & Further Reading


Abuse comes in many shapes & forms and can target adults of any age, however elderly adults are more vulnerable because they may be unable to protect themselves.  Therefore it is vital to have protocols in place for the protection of these adults. Everyone deserves to live a life free from abuse regardless of age or disability.

This guide provides useful information about Elder abuse for people who may be at risk or are concerned for a loved one.

What age bracket does Elder Abuse apply to?

Most research indicates that adults aged 60 or older will experience some form of abuse.

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult who is normally aged 60 or older. Normally the abuse is committed by someone who is looking after the elderly person or someone they trust.

What is Elder Neglect?

Elder neglect is failure to meet their basic needs, this can include wilfully ignoring medical or physical care needs or failure to provide access to appropriate health or social care.

Is Elder Abuse and neglect a crime

There is not an offence of neglect of an older person other than those circumstances set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the Mental Act 1983 and the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. However the term abuse is used to describe a wide range of behaviours, many of which in fact amount to criminal offences.

How does the law define Elder Abuse and/or neglect?

Elder abuse can be defined as ‘ A single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person’.

The different forms of elder abuse include;

  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect

Signs and symptoms of elder abuse can include;

  • Injuries such as cuts, bruising and broken bones
  • Poor hygiene
  • Malnourishment or weight loss
  • Anxiety, depression or confusion
  • Unexplained transactions and loss of money
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

How is Elder Abuse proven in the eyes of the law?

If the reported abuse is backed with evidence of harm or neglect, then this could certainly help prove your case. The following information would help support an elder abuse case;

  • details of the abuse
  • details of any potential abusers
  • details of the elderly person’s current support network
  • contact information of your loved one
  • medical conditions and medication
  • your own contact details

Remember it is the authorities that are responsible for proving elder abuse, it is not for you to prove. However, the more evidence and information you are able to gather will certainly help your case.

What is the punishment for Elder Abuse?

According to Community Care, elder abuse is punishable by imprisonment for up to four years. However in more severe cases where the individual suffers from grievous bodily harm or death, then the punishment could be 10 years.

There would be a lesser sentence for non- physical abuse, for example financial abuse. If the offenders are employees of a care home, they may be dismissed and the care home may be closed down.

What impact does Elder Abuse have on victims and family/friends?

For the victims physical effects of the abuse may include minor injuries or serious conditions such as broken bones, bruises, or injuries to organs and other part of the body. The emotional effects may involve confusion, shock, shortness of breath and changes in sleeping and eating patterns. The effects will depend on various factors such as the severity of the assault, each victim will respond differently to what has occurred.

Friends and family may feel may feel confused, fear, guilt resentment or misalignment in their self-esteem. They may feel guilty for not being able to protect or help the victim and suffer from mental issues trying to come to terms with what has happened. There is also a risk that relationships with family members and friends is damaged if the perpetrator was a member of the family or close friend of the family, or if the victim was not believed when the abuse was disclosed.

We understand how difficult it is to see someone you know or love experiencing abuse, sometimes trying to help a victim is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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