Violence is any harm resulting from intentional action by oneself or others. A very narrow and concise definition of family violence was included in the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act of 1984 of the US Congress: "The term 'family violence' means any act or threatened act of violence, including any forceful detention of an individual, which (a) results or threatens to result in physical injury; and (b) is committed by a person against another individual (including an elderly person) to whom such person is or was related by blood or marriage, or otherwise legally related, or with whom such person is or was lawfully residing." Included in the broadest sense of this definition is psychological battery (e.g., humiliating, rejecting, corrupting acts, and psychosocial injury).

Practical working definitions that permit measurement of elder abuse employ three forms of maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, and chronic verbal aggression. These definitions do not include material abuse (theft or misuse of an elder's money or other assets) or self-inflicted abuse or neglect (which is sometimes included in definitions of elder maltreatment).

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