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Elder Abuse

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When you hear the term "victim of abuse" who do you picture? Someone being beaten or otherwise mistreated by their partner, a child or teenager being harmed, threatened, or neglected by their parents? Yes these are all real, and horrible, truths. However, there are others who can frequently find themselves victims of abuse, and what is one such group in society that does often find themselves in this scenario?

The elderly. Older people are often vulnerable, especially those who have Alzheimers or some other form of dementia, or who have communication issues which can make it difficult or even impossible for them to speak out against their abusers. Even older people who don't have dementia or other issues can sometimes find it difficult to get out of such a scenario, especially if their abuser is a primary caregiver and they have mobility problems. Then there's the fact that their abusers could be their children, and their natural parental instinct to protect their child, and therefore resist the urge to report the situation to the authorities, could very well be in play.

Like any other abuse there are several different types of elder abuse. The most frequent definition is given 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" and the subtypes are by and large the same ones as within Abusive Parents and Domestic Abuse. As with those, they can overlap:

  • Physical Abuse - hitting, striking, spitting at, or other physical force used against an elderly person
  • Verbal Abuse - swearing at, belittling, and demeaning an older person
  • Emotional and Psychological Abuse - manipulating someone's emotions so that they do things for you, or making them feel terrible about themselves, playing mind games
  • Financial Abuse - stealing money or valuables, either directly or by blackmail or coercion
  • Neglect - Simply ignoring their needs, be that their physical needs or their mental and emotional ones
  • Sexual abuse - Rape and sexual coercion of the elderly

As well, scam artists often prey on the elderly, as they can be emotionally vulnerable, might not be smart about such things as email scams, and tend to have a bit of money put aside for retirement, making them easily exploitable targets.

When elder abuse appears on television it can be portrayed in several different ways. Sometimes it appears in a "Very Special Episode" manner, written in by the creators to attempt to highlight the issue. Other times there are cases where it is Played for Laughs, used as a throwaway joke and forgotten about — the primary type in this category tends to be neglect and sometimes verbal abuse.

Sub-Trope to Would Harm a Senior. Contrast Never Mess with Granny and When Elders Attack.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Issue #3 of Ghost Island, Josh performs a seance on a live stage for a man named Benjamin Williams contact his dead mother, Meredith. When Meredith starts speaking through Josh, she reveals that when she was ill, Benjamin would take her jewelry from her and sell it for drugs.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Joel Heyday attacks and threatens his elderly mother once he gets out of jail. Once she tells him he won't get a penny of inheritance when she dies he informs her that he's going to kill his nieces and then her in order to inherit everything she owns.

    Fairy Tales, Mythology, and Religion 
  • The old fable in which a man kicks his elderly father out of the house with only half a blanket. He then sees his son tearing a blanket in half, and when the father asks why, "One day you too will be old."
    • There's a modern but similar one to the above where, because of circumstances, an elderly father has come to live with his son and daughter in law (or daughter and her husband) but, unfortunately, due to the challenges that come with age, his family (except his grandchild) became resentful and make him a wooden bowl and sit at a separate table. When the husband happens upon his son trying to make something out of the scraps from the wooden bowl, he asks his son why, to which, he got a smile and said, "I'm making a bowl for you." The parents have a Jerkass Realization and start treating the elderly father better.
  • Suggested in The Bible in the gospel accounts of Mark and Luke, as Jesus looks at the people casting their money offerings into the Temple's collection box and an old widow is shown casting in two mites, with Jesus saying that she gave more than most people did for their offerings because she gave all that she had to live on. While some Bible students say that it is Jesus commending the widow for her sacrificial giving because she was relying on the Lord for her daily provisions, others have commented that it is actually a sad lament of the Temple priests' systematic financial abuse of widows (given that the Law of God states that you should not afflict a widow or an orphan), which is not surprising given that this happens right after Jesus warns the people about religious scribes who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers, the type of which He says will receive a greater judgment.
  • Also from the Bible: Paul the apostle's first epistle to Timothy commands that the church should look after widows that don't have family members to look after them, while warning that they should not admit widows to the list of being cared for by the church if they are under sixty years old, to prevent elder abuse and neglect among the believers, and also to prevent moochers.
  • The myth of ubasute (also called "obasute"), where the elderly are left to die in a forest or somewhere remote. Reasons as to why depended on the story but there's a story about how a ruling official commanded that a village does this, to which a son pretends to but he still goes to the forest to provide for her and get advice on how accomplish certain tasks. When the ruler asks how he managed to accomplish the tasks, the protagonist tells him how, to which the ruler accepts and rescinds his order to abandon the elderly to die (allowing the old woman to come home). Arguably, ubasute might account for some kinds of youkai, more specifically, the yama-uba, whose appearance is that of an old woman.

    Films — Animation 
  • This is what causes the conflict of Thunder and the House of Magic - an elderly magician's real estate agent nephew tricks his uncle into signing over his house after ending up in hospital following an accident and it's up to the magician's recently adopted kitten to stop the nephew from selling the house.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Ballad of Narayama: Takes this trope to the extreme by depicting the ancient Japanese myth of "obasute", in which old people are taken up a mountainside and left there to die after they reach 70.
  • Seven Pounds: Tim decides against donating one of his organs to a retirement home director after finding out the home mistreats their patients.
  • In Happy Gilmore, Happy's grandmother ends up in a retirement home run by a sadistic orderly. He not only verbally abuses the residents, but forces them to make knock off wallets as well. In a deleted scene shown mostly in televised versions, Happy repays the orderly for his abuse by throwing him out of a window.
  • In Knives Out, Joni had committed financial abuse against Harlan, who provided tuition money to her daughter's school. His lawyer was wiring money directly to the school, but his accountant had also been wiring money to Joni under the guise that she was using it to pay for the tuition. In reality, she was using it to keep her sham business afloat.

  • In A Brother's Price an old woman mentions that she still beats her younger (but old) sisters if they don't obey, and complains she can't hit them as hard as before, because they break so easily now. It's played for laughs, and not quite clear how bad she really is; she seems like a Cool Old Lady. (It is normal that the eldest sister is in charge, but this is usually not enforced with violence). In a darker example, there is also the Porters, who murder their mothers when they become senile and scatterbrained.
  • The Dark: The titular Dark, an ethereal concentration of infectious malignancy, rouses live-in nurse Julie to murder elderly charge Benjamin.
  • Eccentric Neighborhoods: When Chaguito has a stroke that leaves him incapacitated, everybody is relieved because his second wife, Brunhilda, is trained as a nurse. However, at nights, when it's time to bring him his bedpan, she tells him to hurry up so she can go back to bed, and pinches him in the arms to rush him.
  • At some point during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Rita Skeeter went to Bathilda Bagshot’s house note  bewitched her into telling her salacious information and then stole from her. Several people comment that at that point Bathilda wasn’t all there and wouldn’t have given up that information had she had her faculties.
  • Olive Kitteridge: Someone at the nursing home in "The Piano Player" is pinching Angela's mother so hard that her arms have bruises. It's implied that Angela, who resents her mother both for being an alcoholic prostitute and for ruining Angela's chance of going to music school, did it herself.
  • The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village takes this to an extreme. One case revolves around people forcing their elderly parents out of their homes and into a rundown apartment. The company who own said apartment are part of the conspiracy and use magic to make everyone else in the neighbourhood hate the residents, on top of the mundane tactic of cutting off utilities to slowly but surely kill them.
  • This already terrible trope is given an even nastier twist in "Call for Help" by Robert Arthur, collected in Alfred Hitchcock's Stories Not For the Nervous. Two elderly sisters living with their niece and her husband begin suspecting, as they are slowly cut off from their friends and pets, that their affable keepers are scheming to kill them for their stock portfolio, and decide to take... preemptive action. After successfully trapping their keepers in a burning house, they immediately attempt to go back to their affluent lifestyle, only to be informed by the friend, who really did have to leave town and happened to find their cat just outside the burnt home, that their stock has been rendered largely worthless, and that their carers were trying to find the best way to keep them comfortable in their old age... but now they only have a Bleak Abyss Retirement Home and misery to look forward to.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The verbal, psychological, financial, and physical abuse of Sandy by his son, the local vicar, Ashley in Emmerdale was a story arc.
  • The Golden Girls has an episode that focuses on elder abuse.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: Eventually Francis gets Commandant Edwin Spangler fired as the head of his Military School but then gets him placed in a retirement home instead where he proceeds to engage in elder abuse as per his sadist tendencies.
  • In the ER episode "Refusal of Care" Abby suspects one patient, an elderly woman on hunger strike attempting to prevent the deportation of her son, is a victim of this when said son shows up and appears to care little about the woman's predicament.
  • Elder abuse has been the theme/motif of many an episode of various Law & Order series' episodes.
  • The X-Files episode "Excelsis Dei" was about an eponymous nursing home where the residents were often mentally and sometimes physically abused by the staff. A few get a rather supernatural form of revenge though.
  • Dóris in the Brazilian soap opera Mulheres Apaixonadas was famous for abusing her grandparents.
  • One episode of One Foot in the Grave featured Victor, Grumpy Old Man par excellence, helping to liberate a bunch of rest home residents from their cruel caretakers, in his personal Moment of Awesome.
  • A major story arc in the first season of Better Call Saul is Jimmy's investigation of a shady nursing home's fleecing its residents through deceptive billing practices. He ultimately launches a class action lawsuit on their behalf for $20 million.
  • In the Midsomer Murders episode "Birds of Prey", one Asshole Victim is a middle-aged man who lives with his Maiden Aunts and orders them around their own house, makes them wait on him, and steals their pension money while they watch. So, when he comes home bruised after being hit by a car, one aunt realizes he's more badly injured than he realizes, but puts him to bed and leaves him to die in his sleep.
  • Inverted in the Tales from the Darkside episode "Halloween Candy." After a night of tormenting trick-or-treaters, an old man is visited by a real goblin. The next morning, he is found dead and appears to be malnourished, having only eaten Halloween candy. The police arrest his son on the charge of Elder Abuse.
  • A minor character from the Midnight Caller episode "Old Friends" is an old woman whose finger was cut off to steal her wedding ring. Also, an orderly is euthanizing very elderly patients, and smothers one man who witnesses one of the murders.
  • 7 Yüz: Abuse of the financial variety is depicted and discussed in "Refakatçiler". Serhat is often targeted by scammers; as a prosecutor notes, older people who live alone are frequent targets for grifters and con men. Unfortunately, the slightest hint causes Serhat to jump to conclusions about Alihan and his son, and he angrily accuses them of stealing his money; his false assumptions ironically end up driving away the two people who had actually been trying to help him.
  • The Umbrella Academy: The Sparrow's drug Reginald. Justified on their part because Hargreeves' adopted them as pawns to use to reset the universe the way he wants it. He treats his children about as well as you would expect from that description. And then you throw in the training from hell. (In Klaus's case actually designed to make him afraid of his own power rather than give him any control over it.)
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Take My Life...Please!", Billy Diamond, a wealthy stand-up comedian, threw his mother out of his house as he found her annoying. She was forced to move back to her old and poorly maintained house in Philadelphia where she died of hypothermia because of the lack of heating.
  • A Sisters storyline had family matriach Beatrice and fifth sister Charlie rescuing her Alzheimer's stricken husband Truman from this.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pathfinder: The Stag Lord, Starter Villain of the Kingmaker adventure path keeps his elderly father, Nugrah, in a cage, and regularly beats and abuses him. This is in a large part revenge for the horrific abuse that Nugrah himself doled out on his son while he was growing up.

  • Happens in the play Between Riverside and Crazy, when Oswald has an emotionally devastating reunion with his father and falls Off the Wagon. He bursts into Walter's apartment, ranting and raving and demanding money to buy more drugs before he physically attacks Walter to get cash out of him.

    Video Games 
  • God of War II gets the player to partake in elder abuse via a quick time event in which you have to brutally beat and kill a helpless protesting elderly scholar in order to get him to read a book you can't.
  • Open Sorcery has this happen to Mrs. Best, an elderly woman in a nursing home. Her family largely neglects her until money gets involved, and about midway through the game they try to (possibly successfully) murder her.
    Mrs. Best is surrounded by her family.
    Mrs. Best is surrounded by wolves.
  • In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Darth Sion brutally beats his elderly Evil Mentor & surrogate mother Kreia/Darth Traya while she's depowered and helpless to resist, and is heavily implied to have raped her as well.
  • Yakuza: For fuck's sake, don't abuse the elderly in front of Kazuma Kiryu. You likely won't live to even be elderly yourself if he finds out, because if he does, he'll pound you into hamburger. Just like child abuse, elder abuse makes him really angry.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons sometimes shows the Springfield Retirement Castle where Abe "Grandpa" Simpson lives as having rather neglectful staff in many episodes when it comes to the residents' emotional needs, in one episode the staff even destroy the Wii Lisa gave them. Also the Simpsons family would seemingly be happy to leave Grandpa in there and never see him at all, at one point Homer even tried to light a pile of junk on fire, which his dad was buried in; it was implied he knew his father was in said pile of junk.
  • In the Bob's Burgers episode "Secret Admiral-irer," Tina begins spending time with a senile nursing home resident named Meryl, who's nephew Joel shows up every week tricking her into thinking it's his birthday so she'll write him a check. He gets busted by Sgt. Bosco in the end.


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