Elder abuse is the maltreatment or neglect of dependent older people. It can be passive neglect, psychological abuse, financial abuse, active neglect or physical abuse. Except in the instance of passive abuse, which is not intentionally caused and arises when a caregiver is overworked or underinformed, elder abuse is a deliberate act of a hostile perpetrator.
Unlike children, the elderly are responsible for themselves unless they are declared incompetent. Yet many are frail, dependent and vulnerable and, as such, are subject to abuse. Elder abuse cuts across gender, class, race and age lines. In 60 percent of elder abuse cases, the abusers are spouses; 20 percent are adult children; and 20 percent are siblings, grandchildren, boarders or caregivers.
Often, in cases of passive neglect, tensions result from complicated, conflicted or unresolved family relationships. Occasionally, caregivers and family members find themselves stressed by the responsibility and thus become neglectful.
In more active forms of abuse, there is actual intent to inflict harm or deprivation on the older person. In many cases, the caregiver is motivated to abuse by greed or a wish to exploit his or her charge. Or the caregiver may become increasingly resentful of his or her situation and responsibility.