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Elder Abuse/Mistreatment Defined

Federal definitions of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation appeared for the first time in the 1987 Amendments to the Older Americans Act. These definitions were provided in the law only as guidelines for identifying the problems and not for enforcement purposes.

Definitions in state law vary considerably from state to state in terms of what constitutes abuse, neglect, or exploitation of the elderly. Researchers also have used varying definitions to describe and study the problem.

Broadly defined, however, there are three basic categories of elder abuse:

  • Domestic elder abuse
  • Institutional elder abuse
  • Self-neglect or self-abuse

While state definitions may vary, in most states, definitions of elder abuse generally fall within these three categories.

Domestic elder abuse generally refers to any of several forms of maltreatment of an older person by someone who has a special relationship with the elder (a spouse, a sibling, a child, a friend, or a caregiver), that occur in the elder’s home, or in the home of a caregiver.

Institutional abuse, on the other hand, generally refers to any of the above-mentioned forms of abuse that occur in residential facilities for older persons (e.g., nursing homes, foster homes, group homes, board and care facilities). Perpetrators of institutional abuse usually are persons who have a legal or contractual obligation to provide elder victims with care and protection (e.g., paid caregivers, staff, professionals).

Definitions and legal terms vary from state to state in regards to the types of domestic elder abuse that NCEA recognizes, as well as their signs and symptoms.


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Last Modified: 9/21/2011 10:40:04 AM 
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