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Elder Abuse and Neglect: Understand and Recognize the Signs

Elder abuse can happen anywhere – in someone’s own home, in the home of a relative, or in a care facility. As people grow older and more dependent on others, they become more susceptible to physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse as well as neglect by family or professional caregivers. Understanding the different types of abuse and the red flags to watch for are the first step in preventing and putting a stop to abuse.

Physical Abuse is any act causing harm. Hitting, shoving, pinching, biting, slapping or inappropriate use of restraints are all forms of physical abuse.

Possible Signs of Physical Abuse:

  • Signs of injury such as bruises, welts, burns
  • Fractures, dislocations or sprains
  • Misusing or not dispensing prescribed medications
  • Increased agitation
  • Weight loss
  • History of similar injuries
  • Suspicious explanations of how injury occurred

Emotional Abuse refers to one person subjecting another to confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, or other acts which can harm them, elicit fear, or diminish feelings of self-worth.

Possible Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • Insulting behaviors such as name calling or mocking
  • Use of threats and intimidation
  • Noticeable decrease in participation in activities
  • Exclusion of others from elder’s environment
  • Denying abuse (victim or caregiver)
  • Blaming the victim
  • Unexplained rocking or mumbling
  • Caregiver appearing overwhelmed, frustrated, acting with disrespect

Sexual Abuse is manipulating or coercing an elder person to perform sexual acts of any kind.

Possible Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Bruises around breasts or genitals
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Unexplained STD’s or infections
  • Increased difficulty walking or sitting
  • Depression or withdrawal
  • Display of anxiety or fear around caregiver

Elder Neglect is failing to fulfill responsibilities as a caregiver. Neglect can take many forms and may include withholding nourishment, medication, hygienic care, exercise, and social stimulation. Whether intentional or not, the impact of these behaviors on the elder is the same.

Possible Signs of Neglect

  • Weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
  • Untreated medical problems such as bedsores, rashes, cuts, infections
  • Absence of needed dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or other medical equipment
  • Unsanitary living conditions such as soiled bedding and clothing; poor hygiene
  • Inappropriate clothing for weather conditions
  • Desertion or leaving elder for long periods of time without care
  • Elder displaying confusion, depression

Financial Abuse refers to the misuse of or intentional stealing the assets of an elder through deception, harassment, duress and/or threats. Common examples include theft, fraud, transfer of real estate or other assets, lottery or investment scams, electronic (email bank passwords).

Possible Signs of Financial Exploitation

  • Unpaid bills despite adequate income
  • Oversight of finances given to others or “new friends” without explanation
  • Checks written to “cash”
  • Significant cash withdrawals from accounts
  • Unexplained changes in wills, power of attorney and other legal documents
  • Addition of names to signature cards
  • Unexplained charges on credit cards

What to do if you suspect abuse of any kind? Call Adult Protective Services (http://www.napsa-now.org/get-help/how-aps-helps/) and file a report. If the suspected abuse is occurring inside a care facility, contact your local Ombudsmen. This may be done on the phone or in person and if you desire, can remain anonymous. Alerting APS or the Ombudsmen is an important step to help keep a senior safe!

Watch for our post next week “Knowing How to Get Help When an Elder Shows Signs of Abuse.”


If you have any questions or would like to be in touch with a Senior Care Authority Advisor in your area call (888) 854-3910 for a no-cost phone consultation. We have many resources to share with you including subjects that are found in this article. You can also find a local advisor on our website at www.seniorcareauthority.com.

Written by Jennifer Smit


State Directory of Helplines, Hotlines, and Elder Abuse Prevention Resources
Eldercare Locator - Connecting You to Community Services
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Elder Abuse and Neglect: Understand and Recognize the Signs