Elder abuse (also called "elder mistreatment," "senior abuse," "abuse in later life," "abuse of older adults," "abuse of older women," and "abuse of older men") is "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." This definition has been adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) from a definition put forward by Action on Elder Abuse in the UK. Laws protecting the elderly from abuse are similar to, and related to, laws protecting dependent adults from abuse.
The core element to the harm of elder abuse is the "expectation of trust" of the older person toward their abuser. Thus, it includes harms by people the older person knows, or have a relationship with, such as a spouse, partner or family member, a friend or neighbor, or people that the older person relies on for services. Many forms of elder abuse are recognized as types of domestic violence or family violence, since they are committed by family members. Paid caregivers have also been known to prey on their elderly patients.
While there are a variety of circumstances considered as elder abuse, it does not include general criminal activity against older persons, such as home break-ins, "muggings" in the street or "distraction burglary", where a stranger distracts an older person at the doorstep, while another person enters the property to steal.
The abuse of elders by caregivers is a worldwide issue. In 2002, WHO brought international attention to the issue of elder abuse. Over the years, government agencies and community professional groups, worldwide, have specified elder abuse as a social problem. In 2006 the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) and an increasing number of events are held across the globe on this day to raise awareness of elder abuse, and highlight ways to challenge such abuse.