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Elder abuse and neglect

Elder abuse and neglect

Seniors today are more active, independent, and in better health than ever before. However, as the population of seniors grows, so does the epidemic of elder abuse and neglect.

Types of abuse and neglect

Sexual abuse is defined as nonconsensual contact of any kind with an elder/dependent person. Sexual contact with any person incapable of giving consent is also considered sexual abuse. It includes unwanted touching and all types of sexual assault or battery.

Physical abuse is defined as the use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment. The inappropriate use of drugs and physical restraints, force-feeding, and physical punishment of any kind are also examples of physical abuse.

Psychological or emotional abuse is the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. Treating an elder/dependent person like an infant; isolating an elder/dependent person from their family, friends, or regular activities; giving an elder/dependent person the "silent treatment" and enforced social isolation are examples of emotional/psychological abuse.

Neglect typically means the refusal or failure to provide an elderly person or dependent adult with such life necessities as food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medicine, comfort, personal safety, and other essentials included in an implied or agreed-upon responsibility to an elder or dependent adult.  

Financial or material exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder/dependent adult's funds, property, or assets.

What you can do to help prevent abuse of a vulnerable adult

  • Keep a watchful eye out for family, friends, and neighbors who may be vulnerable.
  • Understand that abuse can happen to anyone and know what to look for.
  • Speak up if you have concerns. Trust your instincts!
  • Find ways to limit the person's isolation if that is an issue. Discuss options with him/her or encourage him/her to contact someone who can.
  • Report any suspicions you have of abuse.
  • Spread the word. Share what you’ve learned.

Excerpted in part by the Washington Dept. of Social and Health Services from 15 Questions and Answers about Elder Abuse - National Center on Elder Abuse

What you can do to help prevent abuse if you are a vulnerable adult

  • Stay busy and engaged in life.
  • Do not become isolated from others or favorite activities.
  • Don’t allow anyone else to isolate you in any way
  • Take good care of yourself for life. Older adults in declining health can become more vulnerable to abuse.
  • Maintain regular medical and dental appointments and take care of your personal needs.
  • Assert your right to be treated with dignity and respect. Be clear about what you will and will not tolerate and set boundaries.
  • Know your legal rights.
  • Trust your instincts. Ask for help if you need it.
  • Cultivate a strong support network of family and friends who are concerned about your well-being.
  • If living with another, have your own phone. Send and open your own mail.
  • When you need help, ask a trusted friend, attorney, family member or physician before you act.


What to do

If you witness elder or dependent adult abuse, call 9-1-1.

To report abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult in Washington State, call the DSHS 24-hour hotline at 1-866-363-4276.

Related information

Prosecutor’s Office Elder Abuse Project
The project addresses the abuse of vulnerable adults, a population that includes disabled adults as well as the elderly.

Sound Generations
Sound Generations (formerly Senior Services Of King County) is the largest non-profit agency serving older people in

DSHS Adult Abuse
Site includes information about recognizing, reporting, and preventing abuse and neglect.