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Physical Abuse of an Elderly Person for Family Members and Carers

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.


Physical abuse of an elderly person

is harm done to a person who is 60 years or older by a carer. A carer may be a family member or someone who is responsible for giving care. The carer may hit, slap, kick, push, pull hair, burn, or force feed the person. The carer may also give him or her the wrong amount of medicine. Physical abuse also includes sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is when someone has sexual contact with the person without his or her consent. Physical abuse can happen in the person's home, the carer's home, or a facility, such as a nursing home.

Signs and symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Repeated falls or injuries, or old injuries that were not treated when they happened
  • Scratches, bite marks, or marks from objects used for restraining, such as belts, ropes, or electrical cords
  • Broken or dislocated bones
  • Cuts or bruises, especially on both upper arms (grab marks)
  • Scars or burns from cigarettes, irons, or hot water
  • Blood or discharge coming from the nose, mouth, or genitals

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • The person feels like hurting himself, herself, or someone else.
  • The person has shortness of breath, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

Seek care immediately if:

  • The person feels that he or she cannot cope with the abuse, or his or her recovery from it.

Call the person's doctor if:

  • He or she cannot get to his or her next office visit.
  • He or she has new signs and symptoms.
  • You have or the person has questions or concerns about his or her condition or care.


A person who has been physically abused may be placed in an adult day care. Special services may be offered to ensure his or her safety and health.

  • Medicines may be given to help ease the person's pain. He or she may need antibiotic medicine or a tetanus shot for an open wound. Medicines may also be given if he or she has other medical conditions.
  • Surgery may be needed to treat injuries. Surgery may return bones to their normal position if there is a broken bone. Surgery may also be needed to correct a deformity or treat other injuries.

Care for the person:

  • The person should rest when he or she feels it is needed. Tell the person's healthcare provider if he or she has trouble sleeping.
  • Apply ice and heat as directed:
    • Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the injury for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.
    • After the first 24 to 48 hours, the person's healthcare provider may ask him or her to use heat. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.
  • Counseling may be recommended. A counselor can help the person talk about how he or she is feeling. Physical abuse may cause him or her to feel scared, depressed, or anxious. A counselor can help him or her with these feelings.

How to help the person:

Social workers and healthcare providers can help you make sure the person has what he or she needs. The following are ways you can help the person:

  • Report physical abuse. It may be hard to report physical abuse, but it is very important. Healthcare providers can help the person if he or she is at risk for or is a victim of physical abuse.
  • Attend follow-up visits with the person. A healthcare provider may talk to you, the person, his or her family, or friends. They may want to talk with anyone who should be held responsible for physical abuse.
  • Help make the person's home safer. Look for anything in the person's home that could cause a fall or injury. Examples include area rugs, electric cords, or furniture in a hallway. Remove or secure anything that might make the person trip. Make sure walking areas in the home have good lighting. The person may need a cane, walker, or other equipment to help him or her walk more steadily. This helps prevent a fall or injury that leaves the person at risk for abuse.
  • Help the person get tools to help with activities of daily living. Examples include a chair to sit on in the shower, a hook to help with buttons, and a shoehorn to help slip on shoes. Devices can make the person less dependant on carers who may abuse him or her.

Help the person follow up with his or her doctor as directed:

Write down your questions and the person's questions so you remember to ask them during the visits.

For support and more information:

  • National Center on Elder Abuse
    c/o University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine
    Alhambra , CA 91803
    Phone: 1- 855 - 500-3537
    Web Address:

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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