Elder Abuse

What is elder abuse?

Although there is no official definition, elder abuse is unwanted or offensive physical, sexual, or psychological activity by another. It also includes financial exploitation of older adults, willful or accidental neglect, self-neglect, and abandonment. The elder in elder abuse generally refers to adults age 60 and older.

How do I spot elder abuse?

Abuse is hard to spot, especially since aging or dementia may look like abuse.  Signs of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse are especially difficult to spot outside of a doctor-patient setting. However, there are some basic signs that you can look for: 

  • Physical signs: Bruises, cuts, burns, pressure marks, broken bones, poor hygiene, malnutrition, unusual weight loss, or complaints about being hit or touched inappropriately
  • Emotional Signs: Frequent arguments between the victim and his or her caregiver or family member, sudden changes in personality or behavior, withdrawal from normal activities, strained or tense relationships, changes in alertness, unusual depression or anxiety, or isolation
  • Financial Abuse: Sudden changes in financial situations, a caregiver not taking care of basic needs, transfers of property, or large gifts

Who commits elder abuse?

Sadly, the vast majority of elder abuse is committed by family members, and in particular, adult children. Other common culprits are people in positions of trust, such as agents under Powers of Attorney and caregivers. 

Who is at risk?

Common risk factors include previous abuse, alcohol or drug addiction, lack of support or services for aging issues, isolation, and dementia or other mental illness. 

How can I protect myself?

You can protect yourself with legal planning, like having a power of attorney, advance directive, or declaration for mental health treatment. It is also important if you have a lot of assets to do financial planning and to protect your personal information.

How do I report abuse?

Call 911 if you or someone you know is in danger. You can also report abuse to the following:

  • Nationwide Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 799-SAFE(7233) or (800) 787-3224
  • Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 356-6767
  • If the abuse occurs outside of a nursing home or long-term care facility, report to Adult Protective Services at https://reportadultabuse.dhs.tn.gov/ or (888) APS-TENN, (888) 277-8366
  • If the abuse occurs in a nursing home or long-term care facility, report to the District Long-Term Care Ombudsman:

Northwest Tennessee AAAD, (731) 587-4213, ext. 239

Southwest Tennessee AAAD, (731) 668-6411

  • For victim support services in West Tennessee, contact WRAP’s 24 hour hotline at (800) 273-8712.
  • To request free legal help, call your local legal aid.

What can I do if I’m a victim?

You have the right to file criminal charges or seek a civil remedy in court. To file a criminal charge, fill out a police report in the city or county where the abuse happened. 

Civil options include filing an Order of Protection, filing a lawsuit, and reporting the abuse to police, Adult Protective services, or to the District Ombudsman if the abuse happened in a nursing home or other long-term care facility. Many victim support organizations and legal aid offices may help with these options.

What are my options as the family or friend of a victim?

As a family or friend of the victim, you can file a Vulnerable Adult Order of Protection on behalf of the victim. This action requires that you be related to the victim, the victim be 18 or older, and the victim lacks the capacity to file for him/herself. A family or friend can also file for a conservatorship and report to Adult Protective Services, the Ombudsman, or police.

Are there any other resources for dealing with or preventing elder abuse?

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “Money Smart for Older Adults: Prevent Financial Exploitation


  • National Center for State Courts Elder Abuse Resource Guide


  • National Center on Elder Abuse State Resources


  • Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, Elder Abuse


Elder Abude PDF

Acknowledgements & Disclaimer: This Fact Sheet was prepared by West Tennessee Legal Services (WTLS) and made possible by Serving Tennessee Seniors-administered by The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee at the request of the Chancery Court. WTLS thanks the Tennessee Bar Association for its permission to use The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors (2014 edition) as a primary information source. This publication is supported, in part, by funds provided by the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The content herein does not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability or any agency of Tennessee or the U.S. government. Fact Sheets are for information only and not intended to replace legal advice. If you are in need of legal help, call WTLS at (800) 372-8346, or seek the help of a private attorney. (Revised 5/2017)