Elder Abuse


Stopping elder abuse is only possible after you first learn to recognize the signs. Discover how you can help prevent abuse to the elderly.

Elder abuse can include physical or sexual abuse, financial exploitation, emotional or psychological abuse (including verbal abuse and threats) or abandonment.

Where Does Elder Abuse Take Place?

Elder abuse tends to take place where the senior lives. Most often in the home where abusers are. Abusers are often adult children, grandchildren, spouses/partners, or other family members. Abuse can also occur in institutional settings, especially long-term care facilities.

Different Types of Abuse:

  • Physical Elder Abuse – Non accidental use of force against an elderly person that results in physical pain, injury, or impairment. This abuse includes not only physical assaults such as hitting or shoving but the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, or confinement.
  • Emotional Elder Abuse – Senior spoken to or treated in ways that cause emotional pain or distress including:
  • Intimidation through yelling or threats
  • Humiliation and ridicule
  • Habitual blaming or scapegoating
  • Ignoring the elderly person
  • Isolating an elder from friends or activities
  • Terrorizing or menacing the elderly person
  • Sexual Elder Abuse – Contact with an elderly person without the elder’s consent, such as physical sex acts, activities such as showing an elder person pornographic material, forcing to watch sex acts, or forcing the elder to undress
  • Elder Neglect or Abandonment by Caregiver – Failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation, this abuse constitutes for more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. This abuse can be intentional or unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial that an elderly charge needs as much care as he or she does.
  • Financial Exploitation – Unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property, from either a caregiver or an outside scam artist. This type of abuse can occur when someone:
  • Misuses an elder’s personal checks
  • Credit or debit cards or account
  • Steals cash, income checks, or household goods
  • Forge the elder’s signature
  • Engage in identity theft

An outside scam artist can use a number of scams to take an elders finances.

Recognizing the warning signs of abuse: at first you may not recognize or take seriously the signs of abuse. They may appear to be what you think are signs of dementia or signs of the elders frailty or caregivers may explain them to you that way. Many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them on the caregivers say-so.

General Signs of Abuse

  • Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the elder person
  • Changes in personality or behavior in the elder

If you suspect elder abuse, but aren’t sure, look for clusters of the following physical and behavioral signs.

Physical Elder Abuse Warning Signs:

  • Unexplained signs of injury, such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if they appear symmetrically on two sides of the body
  • Broken bones, sprains, or dislocations
  • Report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining that should)
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames
  • Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrist
  • Caregivers refusal to allow you to see elder alone

Emotional Elder Abuse Warning Signs - In addition to the general signs above, indications of emotional elder abuse include:

  • Threatening, belittling or controlling caregiver behavior that you witness
  • Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself

Sexual Elder Abuse Warning Signs:

  • Bruises around breasts or genitals
  • Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing 

Elder Neglect by Caregivers or Self-Neglect Warning Signs:

  • Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
  • Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores
  • Unsanitary living conditions: dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes
  • Being left dirty or unbathed
  • Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather
  • Unsafe living conditions (no heater, no running water, faulty electrical wiring, or other fire hazards)
  • Desertion of the elder at a public place

Financial Exploitation Warning Signs:

  • Significant withdrawals from the elders account
  • Sudden changes in the elders financial condition
  • Items or cash missing from elders household
  • Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, or policies
  • Addition of names to elders signature card
  • Unpaid bills or lack of medical care, although the elder has enough money to pay for them
  • Financial activity the elder couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden
  • Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions

The Following Three Things are Ways to Prevent Elder Abuse and Neglect: 

  • Listening to the senior and their caregiver
  • Intervening when you suspect elder abuse
  • Educating others about how to recognize and report elder abuse

What Can You Do As a Caregiver to Prevent Elder Abuse?

  • Take immediate steps to relieve caregiver stress and burnout
  • Request help, from friends, relatives or local respite care agencies, so you can take a break, if only for a couple of hours
  • Find an adult day care program
  • Stay healthy and get medical care for yourself when necessary
  • Adopt stress reduction practices
  • Seek help for depression
  • Find a support group for caregivers of the elderly
  • If you are having problems with drug or alcohol abuse, get help

What You Can Do as a Concerned Family or Friend:

  • Watch for warning signs that might indicate elder abuse. If you suspect abuse, report it
  • Take a look at the elders medications. Does the amount in the vial jive with the date of prescription?
  • Watch for possible financial abuse. Ask the elder if you may see bank account and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions
  • Call and visit as often as you can. Help the elder consider you as a trusted confidante
  • Offer to stay with the elder so the caregiver can have a break on a regular basis, if possible

Reporting Elder Abuse:

If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust.

If you see an elder being abused or neglected, don’t hesitate to report the situation. Don’t assume someone else will take care of it or that the person being abused is capable of getting help of he or she really need it.

Many seniors don’t report the abuse. Some fear retaliation from the abuser, while others believe if they turn in their abuser there will be no one to care for them.

How to Report Elder Abuse?

You can contact the APS (Adult Protective Services) office. (888)774-0152 for in home abuse or (800)878-6442 for care facility abuse. The APS’s role is to investigate abuse cases, intervene, and offer services and advice. You may also contact your local law enforcement agency to report elder abuse or neglect.

Tips for Helping an Elder:

You don’t need “hard evidence” to report abuse. In many situations, abuse can be subtle or happen gradually. However, the more specific details you can provide, the clearer the picture of abuse can become. For example: if you’re worried your neighbor is not taking care of himself, instead of reporting “My neighbor is having a hard time care for himself,” report “I’ve noticed that my neighbor wears the same outfit over and over, and it is looking very dirty. When I go to his door, I smell urine and even feces. The home also smells like there is trash accumulating inside the home.”

Understand the elder does have the right to refuse services. As painful as it may be, unless the older adult no longer has the mental capacity to make their own decisions, he or she does have the right to refuse help. The senior may refuse to admit they’re being abused. They could be afraid of retaliation from the caregiver, or worried who will care for them if the abusive caregiver is removed. Sadly, an elder adult may view having an abusive caregiver better than having to leave their home.

Ways That May Help the Senior Consider Alternatives to Home Care:

  • Taking tours of assisted living or other facilities, without any immediate pressure to move, may help dispel myths or eradicate the older persons fear of moving
  • Offering services on a trial basis. This can help the elder see the positive changes they can have. This can also help make them more open to change, For example: if self-neglect is an issue, encourage them to use housekeeping for a month, or a meal delivery service.
  • Keeping the older adult and caregiver in touch with support services can help reduce stress and depression, two major risk factors for abuse. The more support there is for the elder and caregiver, the more eyes there is to see warning signs of abuse.
  • Keep an eye and ear open

If you see abuse after you have already reported abuse, call and report the new or continued abuse. Each report is a snapshot of what is going on. The more information that can be provided the better the chance the elder has to the level of care he or she needs. Older adults can be increasingly isolated due to the little activity they may have outside the home, therefore it can be easier for abuse to go unnoticed for longer periods of time.