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About Abuse

Elder Abuse

Updated: 
August 15, 2019

Who is considered “elderly” or an “older adult?”

There are many definitions for “senior citizen,” “older adult,” or someone who is “elderly” in the United States. For instance, the original age set by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to collect retirement benefits in 1935 was 65 years old. Currently, it is 66 years old, with plans to increase it to 67 years old in the future. However, at 62 years old, the SSA allows a person to collect partial retirement benefits.1 The Older Americans Act provides services to people as young as 55 years old.2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines an “older adult” as someone who is at least 60 years old. Many states may also have different definitions of “elderly” when determining what resources are available in cases of elder abuse, although most states commonly use 65 years of age as the cut-off.3

1Benefits Planner: Retirement,” Social Security Administration
2Older Americans Act,” National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare
3State Specific Laws,” Elder Abuse Guide for Law Enforcement

What types of “caregivers” are there?

There are many people who may be involved in an older adult’s care. Especially in cases where an older adult is mentally not able 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, who could be a relative, partner, friend, or neighbor with a significant personal relationship with the older adult. They may provide many different kinds of assistance for an older adult, and may be the main person responsible for an older adult’s care.
  • Formal caregivers, who are paid workers or volunteers that assist and care for an older adult through an organization or other formal service. They may provide a variety of supportive services, both 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 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 elder abuse 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 older person.“2 In other words, elder abuse is when a person who an older adult should be able to trust harms or risks harm to the older adult, by either purposely hurting him/her or failing to stop him/her from being hurt. An older adult is defined by the CDC as someone age 60 or older.1 However, there isn’t one universally-recognized age for “older adults” as explained in Who is considered “elderly” or an “older adult?

1Elder Abuse: Definitions,” Centers for Disease Control
2Elder abuse,” World Health Organization