Signs of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse can come in different forms, including financial, emotional and physical. While some red flags are obvious, others are harder to identify. Seniors with certain health conditions or memory loss are at higher risk of elder abuse than others. Protect yourself or your loved ones by learning the types, signs and risk factors of elder abuse, as well as how to report a case.
- Written by Lindsey Crossmier
Lindsey Crossmier is an accomplished writer with experience working for The Florida Review and Bookstar PR. As a financial writer, she covers Medicare, life insurance and dental insurance topics for RetireGuide. Research-based data drives her work.Read More
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- Reviewed By Bart Astor
- Published: July 5, 2022
- Updated: May 23, 2023
- 7 min read time
- This page features 6 Cited Research Articles
- Edited By
What Are the Most Common Signs of Elder Abuse?
There are six types of elder abuse, all with different warning signs. Keep in mind that some signs of abuse may overlap with another.
For example, those who suffer from financial abuse may also endure emotional or physical abuse. If the abuser intends to steal money from an older adult, they may threaten to hit or neglect them. Because the signs of abuse can overlap, it’s important to recognize the most common signs of elder abuse. This way, you can spot the red flags and remove yourself or your loved one from a dangerous situation.
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Unpaid bills or missing items
- Sudden violent, confused or scared mood changes
- Unexplained bruises, bed sores or injuries
- Bad hygiene or living conditions
- Marked changes in behavior
Keep senior safety in mind as you learn about the different types of elder abuse. The cases of elder abuse are likely to increase as the population grows. Currently, roughly 5 million older adults are abused every year, and the statistics on elder abuse continue to rise due to unawareness. Nearing life in retirement should be a safe and comfortable transition. Learn the signs and situations of each specific type of elder abuse to help keep you or your loved ones safe.
Examples by Type of Elder Abuse
While everyone’s experience with elder abuse varies, there are common situations for each type of abuse. If you or a loved one have endured any of the situations listed below, you’re likely a victim of abuse.
- Neglect and deprivation
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Financial abuse
There are specific signs that stand out for each type of elder abuse.
Signs of Neglect
Neglect covers a broad range of elder abuse. In some circumstances, the neglect is with intent. In other cases, the caretaker or family member may just forget about the older adult and accidently deprive them of necessities. The older adult may also suffer from self-neglect when they are unable to care for themselves and don’t reach out for help. Each situation is serious and can eventually become life threatening.
- Untreated or worsening health issues
- Malnutrition or dehydration
- Dangerous or unsanitary living conditions
- Missing medications or assistance device, like a cane or walker
- Bad hygiene
Signs of Physical and Emotional Abuse
If you notice an older adult flinching or seeming fearful around their family members or caretakers, they could be suffering from abuse. Physical abuse is typically committed by family members or caretakers.
Even though emotional abuse doesn’t leave a physical mark, it should be taken just as seriously as physical abuse. Emotional abuse can lead to serious mental illnesses, including pushing one to become suicidal.
- Bruises, abrasions, cuts or burns
- Broken or fractured bones
- Signs of physical or chemical restraints
- Acting fearful or angry
- Head trauma
- Heavily medicated behavior
- Becoming unresponsive
- Physical decline and lack of self-care
- Becoming depressed or anxious
- Withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities
- Acting fearful around certain people
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse isn’t strictly referring to rape or unwanted touching. Unwanted sexual language, advances and being forced to watch sexual content can also be reported as sexual abuse.
- Unexplained sexually transmitted disease or genital infection
- Bruises, abrasions or bleeding around breast or genital area
- Ripped clothes and undergarments
Signs of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse is commonly committed by a family member or a “new best friend.” If there is a new best friend in the picture who is getting many expensive gifts, then the motives may not be genuine. Make sure you know the intent of those close to you or your loved one to ensure they are not being financially abused.
- Abundance of unpaid bills
- Missing cash, credit card or check book
- Suspicious changes to legal documents, like a will
- Unexplained disappearance of expensive items
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Risk Factors for Elder Abuse
Some are more susceptible to elder abuse than others. Your age, gender and overall health will influence if you are targeted for abuse. If you discover that you fall into a high-risk category, you should take extra precautions to deter potential abusers.
Once you turn 60 years old, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers any form of abuse to fall under the spectrum of elder abuse. Generally, the older you are, the more at risk you are for abuse.
This is because as you age, you’re more likely to experience health issues and situations that make you more susceptible to abuse. Having people that you trust involved with your finances and checking in on your health can help you avoid abusive situations.
Make sure you do a thorough background check and confirm references for a caregiver before hiring anyone. If you don’t, you or your loved one are more likely to suffer abuse.
It is common for older adults to experience abuse in a nursing home. According to the World Health Organization, two in three staff members at a nursing home admitted to abusing older residents within the past year. The most common type of abuse experienced in a nursing home is physical abuse.
Gender plays a role in how likely an older adult is going to be abused. According to an article from the National Center for Victims of Crime, 66% of elder abuse victims were women. While sexual abuse is the least commonly reported type of abuse for the elderly, women are targeted much more often than men in this category. However, men 60 years and older are more likely to experience physical abuse.
According to the National Library of Medicine, those who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are at a higher risk of abuse. Half of older adults with dementia experience abuse in their lifetime. Those with memory issues are more often targeted for abuse since they are less likely to file a report.
If you have health conditions that make you physically weak, then you’re more at risk for physical abuse since it’s harder to fight back.
Abusers often target older adults who are isolated from their family and friends. This way, there is no one to keep an eye out for red flags. Checking in on your loved ones often can deter abusers from taking advantage of those at risk.
What To Do if You Suspect Elder Abuse
If you or a loved one is in a dangerous or life-threatening abusive situation, dial 911. If you’re not in a dangerous situation, the best thing to do is confide in someone you trust about the abuse and remove yourself from the abuser.
Since many abusers target older adults with memory issues, confiding in another about the abuse ensures the issue will be handled. Only report the abuse once you’re in a safe location.
The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) is a great resource to report elder abuse. NAPSA has a program list with specific abuse hotline phone numbers and emails for each state to report abuse. NAPSA can help determine what elder laws have been broken, how to address emergency needs for food, shelter or protection, and provide legal advice.
6 Cited Research Articles
- World Health Organization. (2022, June 13). Abuse of Older People. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/abuse-of-older-people
- National Council on Aging. (2021, February 23). Get the Facts on Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/get-the-facts-on-elder-abuse
- Mileski, M., et al. (2019, October 22). Preventing The Abuse of Residents with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease In The Long-Term Care Setting: A Systematic Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6816079/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Understanding Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/em-factsheet-a.pdf
- National Adult Protective Services. (n.d.). APS Program List. Retrieved from https://www.napsa-now.org/help-in-your-area
- Nursing Home Abuse Justice. (n.d.). Nursing Home Abuse Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.nursinghomeabuse.org/nursing-home-abuse/statistics/
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