Signs of Elder Abuse

Understanding Elder Abuse Signs

Quick Answer

Elder abuse is defined as negligent or intentional acts performed by a caregiver or other trusted individual that results in harm to a vulnerable elderly person. The signs of elder abuse are identifiable, and knowing those signs is crucial.

elderly abuseElder abuse is not without its signs. There are various warning signs that indicate elder abuse is occurring. Signs can be broken down into different categories, each with it’s own unique set of issues and circumstances.


By understanding the signs to look out for, this can help prevent any harm or neglect that is a result of elder abuse.

Some typical signs and symptoms of overall elder abuse include the following (1):

  • Being malnourished when it is not due directly to an illness
  • Having poor hygiene
  • Having untreated severe bedsores
  • Having an unexplained injury that hasn’t been properly cared for
  • Having sunken cheeks or eyes with evidence of poor circulation
  • Having the caregiver give the wrong type or the wrong amount of medication
  • Frequently going to the emergency room or doctor
  • Having a lack of basic necessities, including utilities, water and food
  • Frequently misplacing or losing personal items

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Elder Abuse

There are things you need to look for in the behavior of the elderly person that can indicate abuse. Behavioral signs of elder abuse include the following:

  • Depressive symptoms
  • Isolating or withdrawing from others
  • Suffering from anxiety, anger, agitation or fear
  • Being ambivalent, resigned or unresponsive
  • Making up implausible stories about how an injury occurred
  • Being hesitant to talk freely
  • Being disoriented or confused

Financial Abuse Warning Signs

When looking for signs that financial exploitation is occurring to an elder, there are a number of things that may indicate this form of abuse.

Signs of financial abuse of an elder include:

  • A lack of amenities in the elderly patient’s home that they can clearly afford
  • Having the elderly person provide excessive gifts or monetary reimbursement in exchange for care or companionship
  • The caregiver has control over the elderly person’s finances but is unwilling or unable to provide for the needs of the elderly person
  • An inability on the part of the elderly person to understand what financial transactions mean

Physical or Sexual Abuse Warning Signs

While physical and sexual abuse of an elder can be hard to detect, there are a few warning signs that should not be ignored. These signs are often apparent based on an elderly person’s changing appearance, moods or overall physical condition.

Signs of physical abuse of an elder include:

  • Unexplained bone breaks
  • Welts
  • Bruises
  • Cuts
  • Sores
  • Burns on the elder

Signs of sexual abuse of an elder include:

  • An unexplained sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Bruises on the thighs or external genitals
  • Bleeding, pain or irritation of the genitals
  • Inappropriate relationships between perpetrator and the victim
  • Engaging in unusual or aggressive behavior

Neglect Warning Signs

When there is suspicion that an elder is being neglected by a caretaker or family member, there are various signs that loved ones should look out for.

Signs of neglecting an elder include:

  • Lack of basic hygiene or clothing for the elderly person that is appropriate for the weather
  • Lack of adequate food for the elderly person
  • Missing medial aids, such as walkers, dentures, eyeglasses, medications, or hearing aids
  • Being left in bed for an extended period of time without supervision or care
  • The home or living area is cluttered or dirty, with appliances that are broken or covered in dust
  • The living area is lacking in the necessary amenities, such as a refrigerator, stove, plumbing, cooling, and heating, or electricity
  • The elderly person may have severe pressure ulcers or bed sores

Emotional Abuse Warning Signs

In emotional abuse, there can be the presence of uncharacteristic or unexplained behavior on the part of the elderly person and the abuser.

Signs of emotional elder abuse include:

  • The elder is withdrawn and fails to participate in usual activities
  • The caregiver often isolates the elderly person and won’t let them be alone with other family members
  • The caregiver can be verbally aggressive or demeaning to the elderly person
  • The caregiver may be controlling, but not want to actively care for the elderly person

Risk Factors For Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can happen to anyone and occur at any place, including the person’s home, an assisted living facility, a nursing facility or in a hospital. It can affect elderly persons of all socioeconomic groups, races, and cultures. Surprisingly, most of the mistreatment of the elderly comes from family members in the patient’s own home.

Those at the greatest risk for elder abuse are home-bound elders, women, individuals older than 80, and those who live in isolated conditions.

Typical risk factors that make an elder more susceptible to abuse are:

  • An isolated or withdrawn elderly person
  • The elderly person is in poor health
  • The elderly person has a mental health issue, a substance abuse issue or suffers from dementia
  • The caretaker has substance abuse or mental health issues

Signs of Abusive Caregivers

These are the things you need to look for in caregivers who abuse the elderly:

  • Having a history of mental illness, substance abuse, family violence or criminal behavior
  • Failing to show affection toward the older person
  • Keeping the elderly person from talking to visitors alone
  • Being indifferent, angry or aggressive toward the elderly person
  • Being flirtatious, coy or inappropriate
  • Speaking about the elder as if they were a burden
  • Withholding affection from the elderly person
  • Having conflicting explanations of physical incidents

If you suspect abuse, you need to report it. You can protect seniors by bringing up the issue of abuse with a trusted authority member.

Another way to report suspected abuse is to connect with your local Adult Protective Services agency. To find the reporting number for your state, you just need to call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 (2).

The Nursing Home Abuse Center Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

Last modified: November 21, 2019

View Sources
  1. Signs and Symptoms of Elder Abuse and Neglect.  Accessed 3/17/2016.
  2. Warning signs of elder abuse.  Accessed 3/17/2016.
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