What Is Abuse?

Abuse is a form of mistreatment by one individual that causes harm to another person. If you witness a life-threatening situation involving a senior or adult with disabilities, immediately call 911.

These are commonly reported types of abuse* received by Adult Protective Services agencies:

  • Physical abuse: may include slapping, hitting, beating, bruising or causing someone physical pain, injury or suffering. This also could include confining an adult against his/her will, such as locking someone in a room or tying him/her to furniture.
  • Emotional abuse: involves creating emotional pain, distress or anguish through the use of threats, intimidation or humiliation. This includes insults, yelling or threats of harm and/or isolation, or non-verbal actions such as throwing objects or glaring to project fear and/or intimidation.
  • Neglect: includes failures by individuals to support the physical, emotional and social needs of adults dependent on others for their primary care. Neglect can take the form of withholding food, medications or access to health care professionals. For more information on neglect, click here.
  • Isolation: involves restricting visits from family and friends or preventing contact via telephone or mail correspondence.
  • Financial or material exploitation: includes the misuse, mishandling or exploitation of property, possessions or assets of adults. Also includes using another’s assets without consent, under false pretense, or through coercion and/or manipulation.
  • Abandonment: involves desertion by anyone who assumed caregiving responsibilities for an adult.
  • Sexual abuse: includes physical force, threats or coercion to facilitate non-consensual touching, fondling, intercourse or other sexual activities. This is particularly true with vulnerable adults who are unable to give consent or comprehend the nature of these actions.
  • Self-neglect: involves seniors or adults with disabilities who fail to meet their own essential physical, psychological or social needs, which threatens their health, safety and well-being. This includes failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter and health care for one’s own needs. You can learn more about self-neglect here.

* Definitions of abuse vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Please contact your local APS office for additional information.

When to Report Checklist

If you witness a life-threatening situation involving a senior or adult with disabilities, dial 911. Contact your local Adult Protective Services agency any time you observe or suspect the following:

  • Sudden inability to meet essential physical, psychological or social needs threatening health, safety or well-being
  • Disappearing from contact with neighbors, friends or family
  • Bruising or welts on the skin, especially those appearing on the face or lateral and anterior region of the arms (physically abused elders are much more likely to display bruises than seniors injured by accident)
  • Fingerprints or handprints visible on the face, neck, arms or wrists
  • Burns from scalding, cigarettes, or in shapes of objects such as an iron
  • Cuts, lacerations or puncture wounds
  • Sprains, fractures or dislocations
  • Internal injuries or vomiting
  • Appearing with torn, stained, bloody clothing
  • Appearing disheveled, in soiled clothing or inappropriately attired for climate
  • Appearing hungry, malnourished, disoriented or confused