Objective: to undertake a systematic literature review of risk factors for abuse in community-dwelling elders, as a first step towards exploring the clinical utility of a risk factor framework. Search strategy and selection criteria: a search was undertaken using the MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE and PsycINFO databases for articles published in English up to March 2011, to identify original studies with statistically significant risk factors for abuse in community-dwelling elders. Studies concerning self-neglect and persons aged under 55 were excluded. Results: forty-nine studies met the inclusion criteria, with 13 risk factors being reproducible across a range of settings in high-quality studies. These concerned the elder person (cognitive impairment, behavioural problems, psychiatric illness or psychological problems, functional dependency, poor physical health or frailty, low income or wealth, trauma or past abuse and ethnicity), perpetrator (caregiver burden or stress, and psychiatric illness or psychological problems), relationship (family disharmony, poor or conflictual relationships) and environment (low social support and living with others except for financial abuse). Conclusions: current evidence supports the multifactorial aetiology of elder abuse involving risk factors within the elder person, perpetrator, relationship and environment.