Signs of Elder Abuse

The signs of elder abuse range from physical injuries to financial manipulation. If you believe an older person you love is being abused, see if you can identify any of the warning signs listed below. Then, make sure to report these signs to authorities. Don’t ignore possible signs of elder abuse until it’s too late.

What Are the Warning Signs of Elder Abuse?

The signs of elder abuse vary depending on the type of abuse that has occurred. Generally speaking, though, it’s key to look for negative changes in an older person’s physical and mental health or finances.

Signs and symptoms of elder abuse include:

  • Physical injuries: Bruises, broken bones, or scrapes
  • Financial exploitation: Strange transactions or changes in power of attorney
  • Emotional harm: Changes in an elder’s mood if caregivers isolate them or yell at them
  • Sexual mistreatment: Unexplainable sexually transmitted diseases or injuries around genitals
  • Neglect: Lack of care leading to malnutrition and other serious illnesses

If you or someone you love is exhibiting common elder abuse signs, don’t wait to take action. Local authorities such as 911 or a branch of your state’s Adult Protective Services (APS) can investigate reports of elder abuse.

You can also contact our team to learn about your legal options if you notice signs of elderly abuse in a nursing home.

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Risk Factors of Elder Abuse

It’s important to know that any older adult can fall victim to elder abuse. However, certain factors may increase the risk.

Notable elder abuse risk factors include:

  • Gender: According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), women are more likely to suffer from elder abuse than men.
  • Health: The NIA found that older adults with mental or physical health problems that need daily care from another person are at a greater risk of elder abuse. At particular risk are elders with severe handicaps like dementia.
  • Lack of support: Older people who do not have close friends or family members near them may be at a greater risk of abuse, as less people will be able to check up on them.

Additionally, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) found that instances of elder abuse by family members accounted for 60% of all cases. A spouse or a grown child were the most common family members to commit elder abuse.

Signs of Elder Abuse by Type

Signs of Elder Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse may not leave physical marks, but its effects can be just as harmful. Emotional abuse typically involves negative, sudden changes to an elder’s personality or daily life.

Common signs of emotional elder abuse include:

  • Difficult relationship with a caregiver
  • Loss of enjoyment from certain activities
  • Onset of depression or aggression

It’s also important to consider caregivers’ behaviors and words to look for possible signs of emotional abuse. Caregivers that belittle, threaten, or ignore an elder may be committing this type of abuse.

In 2019, two employees laughed and taunted a resident with dementia — then posted the video online. The video clearly showed the employees committing emotional nursing home abuse.

The nursing home fired the staff members after the resident’s family filed a lawsuit. The former staff members later pled guilty to criminal charges brought against them. If no action had been taken, these staff members may have continued their abusive behaviors.

Signs of Elder Physical Abuse

Sometimes caregivers may get frustrated with an older person and lash out through violence, leading to physical injuries.

Physical signs of elder abuse include:

  • Bedsores
  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Dislocations
  • Scars
  • Sprains
  • Welts

Other than injuries on the body, damage to an elder’s clothes or property may indicate that physical abuse has taken place. For example, the NIA includes broken eyeglasses or missing medical devices (such as crutches or hearing aids) as signs of possible abuse.

Signs of Elder Sexual Abuse

Elder sexual abuse includes any unwanted form of sexual contact.

Signs of elder sexual abuse can include:

  • Blood or stains on underwear
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Injuries on or around the genitals
  • Pain during urination or bowel movements
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

“Elder sexual abuse is most often being reported in nursing homes, by both employees and residents as perpetrators.”

– Ann Burgess, R.N., D.N.Sc.

According to a 2015 report, women and those over the age of 79 are more likely to experience elder sexual abuse. Those with the highest risk, however, had mental or physical impairments.

In 2017, CNN shared an account of how a nursing home resident in her mid-eighties was sexually assaulted by a caregiver. The resident had Alzheimer’s disease and was unable to speak.

It was later revealed that the caregiver had sexually abused other nursing home residents suffering from impairments like deafness and multiple sclerosis. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison for his actions.

Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse

In cases of elder financial abuse, caregivers, loved ones, or even strangers try to steal money or other things of value.

1 in 20 older adults has experienced elder financial abuse, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA).

Sadly, financial abuse may go unnoticed since a senior’s physical and emotional health are typically not directly affected at first.

Notable signs of elder financial abuse include:

  • Being at risk of eviction due to unpaid bills
  • Changes to power of attorney
  • Missing bank account statements
  • Unexplainable transactions

In 2020, a man was arrested after he allegedly stole nearly $100,000 from his elderly parents, who suffered from mental and physical handicaps. He had power of attorney on his father’s behalf, but he used his parents’ money to pay his own expenses rather than theirs.

Signs of Abuse and Neglect in Elderly

Elder neglect is not exactly the same as abuse, although both can be devastating. In cases of elder neglect, an older adult’s needs are not met due to the carelessness of caregivers.

“Passive neglect is a caregiver’s failure to provide an older adult with life’s necessities, including, but not limited to, food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.”

– The National Council on Aging

Neglect in nursing homes and by relatives have a number of similarities, as they both typically cause older Americans to suffer from long-term health problems.

Top signs of elder neglect include:

  • Lack of proper medical care for illnesses
  • Malnutrition
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Unwashed hair or clothing

Elders can suffer from severe health problems if neglect occurs for a long span of time. For example, in late 2020, a Florida man was charged with elder neglect for severely failing to care for his bedridden mother, according to police.

He called 911 after his mother became unresponsive, and paramedics found her so dehydrated that her eyes couldn’t close. She was also covered in sores and the feces of both humans and cats.

Signs of Caregiver Abuse

Investigating a caregiver’s actions can help you assess the quality of care your older loved one is receiving and may help pinpoint if abuse has taken place.

Notable signs of caregiver abuse include:

  • Forcing the elder to give them checks or sign away power of attorney
  • Isolating the older adult from friends or family
  • Preventing the senior from getting medical care
  • Seeming very stressed out from providing care
  • Threatening or humiliating the elder

If you determine that a close relative (such as a sibling) is committing elder abuse, you may feel conflicted about reporting them.

However, even if the abuser is a family member, you should still consider filing a report. Filing can help save an older person’s life if abuse is taking place.

Further, the abuse might not end without a report — meaning your elderly loved one may continue to suffer if you don’t hold the perpetrator accountable.

How To Report Signs of Elder Abuse

The only way to make sure that elder abuse stops is by contacting authorities as soon as possible. Reporting nursing home abuse or elder abuse allows professionals to assist your loved one and make sure that they’re safe.

“If you feel that your family member is in physical danger, contact the authorities right away.”

– The National Institute on Aging

You can report elder abuse to:

Once you have reported suspected neglect or abuse, you can also contact a nursing home abuse lawyer to discuss your legal options. You and your loved ones may be able to access financial compensation and hold perpetrators accountable with a lawyer’s help.

Learn more with a free case review from our team right now.

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Nursing Home Abuse Justice Team

Nursing Home Abuse Justice was founded to shine a light on nursing home and elder abuse. Every day, thousands of people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are abused. Our team helps educate seniors and their loved ones on the common causes, signs and preventions of nursing home abuse. We report on real-world studies and current events from respected news outlets to expose this national problem.

Last modified: May 16, 2023

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