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About Abuse

Elder Abuse

Updated: April 3, 2024

Who is considered an “older adult?”

There are many definitions of an “older adult”1 in the United States. The definition may vary by state and depending on the purpose for which it is used.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines an “older adult” as someone at least 60 years of age,2 while the National Institute on Aging uses 65 years of age.1 However, many states define “older adult” or “elderly” differently when determining what resources are available in elder abuse cases.3 For example, a state may provide supportive services to people over 60 while only prosecuting “elder abuse” if the older adult is over 65. For this reason, the definition needs to be researched on a case-by-case basis when determining what protections your specific state may offer. If you or a loved one are survivors of elder abuse and you would like legal information for your specific situation, please send us a message on our Email Hotline.

Note: As recommended by the National Institute of Aging, WomensLaw uses the term “older adult” instead of “elderly” because it affirms agency and personhood.

1  National Institutes of Health, Older adults vs. the elderly
2Elder Abuse: Definitions,” Centers for Disease Control
3 “State Specific Laws,” Elder Abuse Guide for Law Enforcement

What types of “caregivers” are there?

Many people may be involved in an older adult’s care. Especially in cases where an older adult is mentally unable to make decisions for him/herself, the law often refers to a caregiver as a “responsible adult.” The types of caregivers include:

  • Family members or informal caregivers could be relatives, partners, friends, or neighbors with significant personal relationships with the older adult. They may provide many different kinds of assistance for the older adult and may be the main person responsible for his/her care.
  • Formal caregivers are paid workers or volunteers who assist and care for an older adult through an organization or other formal service. They may provide various supportive services in an older adult’s home or through local community services. These services can include assistance with bathing, chores, adult day services, transportation, and meals.1

1 This information is adapted from the Family Caregiver Alliance.

What is older people abuse, also known as elder abuse?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines “elder abuse” as 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.”1 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it 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 adult 60 years and older.”2 

In other words, the older adult is put at risk of being harmed or is harmed by a person they should be able to trust. This can be done intentionally or by failing to keep the older adult from being hurt.

1 “Elder Abuse: Definitions,” Centers for Disease Control
2 “Abuse of Older People,” World Health Organization