Types of  elder abuse

What does elder abuse look like?

Elder abuse is horrific whatever form it takes because it involves the betrayal of trust of person people know or that are close to them.  Elder abuse is devastating for older people as the as it damages their health, their self-esteem, their financial means, and their social relationships.

Elder abuse can be understood by the different ways it can occur. The types described below give a glimpse of how any older person can be abused.  In most cases that Age Concerns work with, kaumātua experience several of these types together.

Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse usually happens because there is fear or emotional distress for those being targeted.  This can include bullying, controlling, manipulating threats like: “You won’t see your grandchildren again if you don’t…!
It is behaviour that causes mental anguish, stress or fear.  For example:

  • ridicule or threats
  • harassment or humiliation
  • preventing choice or decision-making
  • withholding affection.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse can include misusing bank cards, forcing house mortgage deposits, taking possessions, or taking over financial authority.  A loan or a guarantor signature can be “given” under duress or coercion, such as: “Just sign here Dad: If we don’t get back to the bank today, we will lose our house…”
It is illegal or improper use of money, property or other assets.  For example:

  • unauthorised taking of money or possessions
  • misuse of power of attorney
  • failure to repay loans
  • use of home and/or utilities without contributing to costs
  • scams that rely on establishing a relationship with the older person with the intention of exploiting their savings and/or assets, e.g. romance scams.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is not always obvious unless hitting or pushing is noticed. Bruises can be hidden beneath clothing and complaints about pain are excused; for example: “Stop moaning, just watch where you are going and lift your feet - then you won’t trip up.”
It is the infliction of pain, injury or use of force.  For example:

  • hitting, pushing, rough handling
  • over-medication
  • inappropriate use of restraints or confinement.


Neglect involves not providing the care an older person needs to keep well and involved, like: “You don’t need hearing aids. No one talks to you with your smelly pants.”
It is not providing for physical, emotional or social needs. For example:

  • inadequate food, clothing, shelter
  • lack of social contact, support
  • health needs not attended to.

Self-neglect occurs where an older person is not caring for themselves adequately.

Institutional abuse

Institutional abuse happens when an agency’s practices or protocols are not respecting what older people need and are inflexible, such as: “Carers can only shower in the mornings, twice a week.”
It is policy or accepted practice within an organisation that disregards a person’s rights or causes harm. For example:

  • lack of respect for a person’s culture or customs
  • Inappropriate rationing of continence products
  • inflexible routines e.g. breakfast at 8 am in the dining room.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse includes any inappropriate touching or any sexual advances without consent.
It is non-consensual sexual acts or exploitive behaviours. For example:

  • inappropriate touching
  • sexual acts with someone unable to give consent.


There are many reasons why elder abuse occurs and many reasons why it is hidden.  It often stems from attitudes that are ageist so that older people are written off as unimportant.  Societal values that are negative towards the older generation discourage people saying they are being abused or neglected. 

What can you do?

Age Concern’s mission is for “older people to live a valued life in an inclusive society”.  If you have a hunch that any older person is being abused, please phone us to discuss your concerns confidentially.  We would rather talk through options to stop any abuse that might be happening now, than leave it until abuse has been proven when the damage is harder to repair.  You can phone us on 0800 65 2 105 or phone your nearest local Age Concern elder abuse service .