Older gentleman sitting on a bench looking out over a street.

California Elder Abuse Definitions

Though we’ve talked extensively about elder abuse, you may still be wondering what the legal definition is. What, according to California law constitutes abuse? That is a very simple yet important question with a few simple answers. We know that understanding abuse and its causes is one of the best ways to prevent abuse. The first step to understanding abuse is knowing the official legal definitions, as well as the most common signs of elder abuse.

Older gentleman sitting on a bench looking out over a street.
PC: Huy Phan via Unsplash


Under California law, there are a few important definitions that will help you determine if you or your loved one has experienced abuse. As stated before, knowing these definitions is the very first step to fostering a better understanding of abuse. It should be noted, as well, that every state has its own legal definitions, though they often look very similar. 

Civil Law Abuse Definition: Physical abuse, neglect, financial abuse, abandonment, isolation, abduction, or other treatment resulting in harm, pain or mental suffering to an elder.

Abandonment Definition (CANHR): “The desertion of an elder by someone who is a caregiver.” 

Financial Abuse (CANHR): “The wrongful taking or use of an elder’s funds, property, or other assets.”

Neglect Definition (CANHR): “A caregiver’s failure to assist in an elder’s personal hygiene, failure to provide food, clothing or shelter, or protect an elder from health and safety hazards.”

Physical Abuse Definition (CANHR): “The infliction of physical pain or injury, sexual assault or molestation, or the use of physical or chemical restraints for punishment.”

Under California Penal Code § 368, abuse is recognized as willfully causing harm or placing an individual in circumstances that lead to suffering, injury, unjustifiable pain, or danger. 

Signs of Abuse

First and foremost, it is important to look for any change in your loved one’s behavior. This can not only be a sign of abuse, but a sign of worsening illness overall. To ensure the best care for your loved one, note all—even small—changes in their behavior and physical abilities.

As for signs of abuse, there are some key things to look for both in behavior and physically.

  • Malnutrition/dehydration
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Bruises, wounds, and broken bones
  • Fearfulness
  • Depression
  • Unwillingness to talk or share what happened
  • Withdrawing and non-responsiveness
  • Inability to speak for themselves (the caregiver is always answering questions/making excuses)
  • Anger towards, or discomfort and agitation around a caregiver
  • Defensiveness

While we have yet to discover a guaranteed method of preventing abuse, knowledge is power. Understanding the ins and outs of abuse, the signs, and the law surrounding abuse is a fantastic first step to keeping everyone safe and maintaining dignity in aging. 

If you or a loved one has been a victim of abuse or neglect, call Gharibian Law (866-798-8606) today for a free consultation and the best legal representation.