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Signs of Elder Abuse

Understanding Elder Abuse Signs

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Elder abuse can take many forms, often making it hard to spot. Common signs of elder abuse include physical injuries, negative behavioral changes, or unexplained transactions. By learning about all the warning signs of elder abuse, families can be better prepared to keep their loved ones safe.

What Are the Warning Signs of Elder Abuse?

The most common warning signs of elder abuse are strange and sudden changes to an elderly loved one’s mental, physical, or financial well-being. Specific signs of elder abuse vary depending on what type of elder abuse is affecting the victim.

Signs and symptoms of elder abuse can include:

  • Injuries such as bruises, cuts, or broken bones
  • Malnourishment or weight loss
  • Poor hygiene
  • Symptoms of anxiety, depression, or confusion
  • Unexplained transactions or loss of money
  • Withdrawal from family members or friends

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) estimates that 1 in 10 older people suffers from some type of abuse every year. Yet the signs of elder abuse often go unreported and abusers go unpunished.

To prevent elder abuse, family members should keep a close watch on older loved ones under the care of someone else. Relatives should also report any signs of elder abuse to local authorities as soon as possible.

Risk Factors For Elder Abuse

While any older person can suffer from elder abuse, some run a greater risk of abuse or neglect than others.

Risk factors for elder abuse include:

  • Age: Adults over the age of 80 are more likely to suffer from elder abuse, according to a 2014 medical study from Northwestern University and Rush University researchers.
  • Caregiver:  A caregiver who lives with the elder, depends on them for financial support, abuses drugs, or has a criminal background may be more likely to commit abuse.
  • Gender: The 2014 Chicago study found that women were more likely to suffer from elder abuse. Women may also suffer from more severe types of abuse over longer periods of time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Health: This includes poor physical health and mental health issues such as dementia. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), nearly 50% of those with dementia suffer from elder abuse and neglect.
  • Isolation: According to a 2015 report from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), nearly 13 million older people in the U.S. lived alone. Elders who live by themselves or who are withdrawn may be at risk of abuse, according to the NCOA.

Signs of Elder Abuse by Type

The signs of elder abuse can vary with each case, and some seniors may fall victim to more than one type of abuse.

Since any type of elder abuse can affect a parent, grandparent, or other relatives, it is important to know the warning signs for each type. Find a breakdown of the warning signs of elder abuse below.

Physical Signs of Elder Abuse

In some ways, physical abuse is the most obvious type of elder abuse.

Common physical signs of elder abuse include:

  • Broken bones
  • Bruises or welts
  • Burns
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Head injuries and concussions
  • Pressure marks or sores

Loved ones should regularly check up on their older family members and use their best judgment in cases of physical injury. Sometimes, caregivers or nursing home staff members may claim that something else caused the injuries to cover up the abuse.

For example, in 2018, a Colorado woman was admitted to a hospital for deep cuts, bruises, and broken bones in her hand. The nursing home initially claimed the woman had scratched herself with a coat hanger.

It later came to light that a staff member — who was a convicted felon — had beaten the woman and another resident. The staff member was sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

While it may not leave physical scars, emotional abuse can be just as damaging to an older relative’s health. Emotional abuse can include screaming, threatening, or instilling fear in an elderly loved one.

Signs of emotional elder abuse include:

  • Being hesitant to talk freely
  • Isolating or withdrawing from others
  • Making up implausible stories about how an injury occurred
  • Suffering from anxiety, anger, depression, or fear

As a senior transitions into the care of someone else, family members should take note of their emotional well-being. If the elder’s happiness and overall mood decrease in a concerning way, emotional abuse could be the cause.

Signs of Financial Abuse

Unlike the other types of abuse, financial abuse can go unnoticed because the senior’s physical and emotional health won’t be directly affected. Yet financial abuse can leave elders unable to afford even the most basic health care needs.

Common signs of financial abuse include:

  • Large sums of money missing from bank statements
  • The senior cannot access their financial records
  • The elder provides gifts or monetary reimbursement in exchange for companionship
  • Strange or unexplainable transactions

A trusted financial expert or family member should monitor the elderly person’s accounts and ask about any concerning transactions, if possible. If the senior cannot explain the loss of funds, they may be a victim of financial abuse.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Some seniors, such as those with mental or physical handicaps, may not be able to consent to sexual relationships. If an elder is sexually abused, their physical and emotional health can suffer significantly. Sexual abuse can also devastate loved ones and family members.

Signs of sexual abuse of an elder include: 

  • An unexplained sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Bruises on the thighs or genitals
  • Bleeding, pain, or irritation of the genitals
  • Inappropriate relationships between a caregiver and elder

Family members should promptly address any possible cases of sexual abuse to keep their parents, grandparents, or other elderly relatives safe.

Warning Signs of Neglect

While the signs of elder abuse and neglect are similar, the latter often stems from inadequate care, not intentional harm. That said, neglect can be just as harmful to an elderly loved one’s health, particularly if the health issues go on for months.

Signs of neglecting an elder include:

  • Bedsores or pressure ulcers
  • Being left in bed for an extended period of time without supervision or care
  • Lack of basic hygiene, adequate food, or hydration
  • Missing medical aids, such as walkers, dentures, eyeglasses, medications, or hearing aids
  • Unclean or unsafe living conditions, such as a lack of heat or plumbing, soiled bedding, or bug infestations

Signs of Abusive Caregivers

Trusted family members should always keep a close watch on those providing care to their elderly parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Sometimes, the first signs of elder abuse stem from caregivers.

Possible signs of abusive caregivers include:

  • Being indifferent, angry, demeaning, or aggressive toward the elderly person
  • Failing to show affection toward the senior (if they are related)
  • Giving conflicting explanations of physical injuries
  • Having a history of mental illness, substance abuse, family violence, or criminal behavior
  • Keeping the elderly person from talking to visitors alone
  • Speaking about the elder as if they were a burden
  • Using flirtatious or inappropriate language around the elder

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), most cases of elder abuse occur when aging seniors live at home. Abusers can be roommates, at-home caregivers, or even untrustworthy family members.

A trusted and responsible relative — such as a spouse or grown child — should take note of these warning signs if they have seen an elderly person’s health worsen. It could mean the difference between an otherwise random injury and exposing a pattern of abuse.

Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect? Take Action Today

Never brush off possible signs of elder abuse. Your parents, grandparents, and other elderly relatives do not deserve to suffer. If you suspect your loved one is in danger, report it. Call 911 immediately to address any urgent concerns.

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

To learn more about the signs of elder abuse and next steps you can take, get a free case review today. We can recommend important medical and legal resources to help your loved ones.

Nursing Home Abuse Support 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.

View 9 Sources
  1. Administration on Aging, Administration for Community Living, & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). A Profile of Older Americans: 2015. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/Aging and Disability in America/2015-Profile.pdf.
  2. American Psychological Association. (2012). Elder Abuse & Neglect: In Search of Solutions. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.apa.org/pi/aging/elder-abuse.pdf.
  3. Butzer, S. (2019, August 28). Caregiver sentenced to prison for abusing elderly women. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/caregiver-sentenced-to-12-years-in-prison-for-abusing-elderly-patients-at-arvada-facility.
  4. Dong, X. Q., & Simon, M. A. (2014, January). Vulnerability risk index profile for elder abuse in a community-dwelling. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4155408/.
  5. Elderly Alzheimer's patient beaten at Arvada assisted living community; caregiver facing arrest. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DVx7y9KMDw&t=1s.
  6. Institute of Medicine. (2013, April). Elder Abuse and Its Prevention. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.nap.edu/read/18518/chapter/4#19.
  7. National Council on Aging. (2018, June 15). Elder Abuse Statistics & Facts: Elder Justice. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/.
  8. National Institute on Aging. (n.d.). Elder Abuse. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse#signs.
  9. World Health Organization. (2018, June 8). Elder abuse. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/elder-abuse.
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