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Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.

Elder Abuse

To Report Elder Abuse in Tennessee: 1-888-277-8366

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. (An older adult is defined as someone age 60 or older.) Forms of elder abuse are physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, and exploitation. 

Signs of Physical Abuse 

While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some indicators that there could be a problem are:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse, as can unexplained sexually transmitted diseases, broken bones, welts, cuts, sores or burns
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs. Read our section on Factsheets & Publications for more information about how caregivers can prevent elder abuse

It’s important to remain alert. The suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in personality, behavior, or physical condition, you should start to question what is going on.

This information was provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse.  

Signs of Financial Abuse and Exploitation

Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation. You should be concerned over:

  • A lack of basic necessities a victim could afford
  • A vulnerable elder or adult "voluntarily" giving unusually large gifts of money or large payments for needed care or companionship
  • A caregiver with control of an elder's money but who fails to provide for the elder's needs
  • A vulnerable senior or adult who signs property transfers or official documents but clearly cannot understand what those documents mean or what they have done 

Signs of Psychological or Emotional Abuse

Abuse isn't limited to hitting and stealing. Harm can follow from extreme control or words and behavior chosen to make a person feel worthless and powerless. Looks for:

  • Changes in behavior that make no sense or that have no obvious reason, such as withdrawal from normal activities or changes in alertness
  • A caregiver who isolates an elder (doesn't let anyone into the home or allow people to speak to the elder)
  • A caregiver who is verbally aggressive or demeaning, controlling, overly concerned about spending money, or who appears unconcerned for the person under their care. 

Signs of Neglect (or Self-Neglect)

Tragically, sometimes elders neglect their own care, which can lead to illness or injury. Self-neglect can include behaviors such as:

  • Hoarding of objects, newspapers/magazines, mail/paperwork, etc., and/or animal hoarding to the extent that the safety of the individual (and/or other household or community members) is threatened or compromised
  • Failure to provide adequate food and nutrition for oneself, including dehydration
  • Failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness
  • Lack of medical aids (glasses, walker, teeth, hearing aid, medications
  • Person with dementia left unsupervised
  • lack of basic hygiene, adequate food, or clean and appropriate clothing
  • Not wearing suitable clothing for the weather
  • Inability to attend to housekeeping, or a home that is cluttered, filthy, in disrepair, or that displays fire or safety hazards
  • Person confined to bed is left without care, or displays untreated pressure "bed" sores (pressure ulcers)

Self-neglect is one of the most frequently reported concerns brought to adult protective services. Oftentimes, the problem is paired with declining health, isolation, Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or drug and alcohol dependency.

In some of these cases, elders will be connected to supports in the community that can allow them to continue living on their own. Some conditions like depression and malnutrition may be successfully treated through medical intervention. If the problems are severe enough, a guardian may be appointed.

This information was provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse.  

More About Elder Abuse

Domestic elder abuse generally refers to any of the following types of mistreatment that are committed by someone with whom the elder has a special relationship (for example, a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver).

Institutional abuse generally refers to any of the following types of mistreatment occurring in residential facilities (such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, group home, board and care facility, foster home, etc.) and is usually perpetrated by someone with a legal or contractual obligation to provide some element of care or protection.

Elder abuse can affect people of all ethnic backgrounds and social status and can affect both men and women. The following types of abuse are commonly accepted as the major categories of elder mistreatment:

  • Physical Abuse—Inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need.

  • Emotional Abuse—Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts.

  • Sexual Abuse—Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind, coercing an elder to witness sexual behaviors.

  • Exploitation—Illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder.

  • Neglect—Refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.

  • Abandonment—The desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.

Although there are distinct types of abuse defined, it is not uncommon for an elder to experience more than one type of mistreatment at the same or different times. For example, a person financially exploiting an elder may also be neglecting to provide appropriate care, food, medication, etc. Visit the Types of Abuse section to learn more about the types of elder abuse.

This information was provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse.  


Family Justice Centers

This Family Justice Center  is open as of July 2015 and is located at 400 Harriet Tubman Street, Knoxville, TN 37915. Operating hours are Monday-Friday 8:00 am-4:00 pm. The 24/7 Family Violence Helpline is 865-521-6336 and is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In an emergency, dial 911.


Source Organization: National Center on Elder Abuse Capture Date: 2015-05-26 

What is Ageism?

Program Quick Stats

Only 1 in 14

Cases of abuse are reported to authorities,

1 in 10 Americans

aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse.

Almost 60%

of elder abuse is perpetrated by a family member.


John Bender
(865)691-2551 ext 4234

Counties Served

Regional Office, Blount County, Claiborne County, Campbell County, Anderson County, Knox County, Morgan County, Cocke County, Grainger County, Hamblen County, Jefferson County, Loudon County, Monroe County, Roane County, Scott County, Sevier County