Elder Abuse: Signs of Abuse and How You Can Prevent It


Elder abuse is a growing problem that affects thousands of elderly individuals. Many times, abuse is well hidden and elders feel ashamed of being victimized, making it difficult to correct the situation. As the adult child, family member or friend of an elder, you can help prevent abuse by knowing the signs and what to do if abuse is suspected. The questions and answers below will help you identify elder abuse and prevent any further abuse.

What is elder abuse?

According to the Administration on Aging, elder abuse is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation and despair.

What are the types of elder abuse?

Physical Abuse: Physical abuse is the non-accidental use of harmful force against an elder causing pain, injury or impairment.

Sexual Abuse: Any non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.

Neglect: The failure to fulfill caretaker obligations to a senior. Caretaker obligations may include food, shelter, healthcare or protection. Neglect can be either intentional or unintentional, depending on the caregiver’s knowledge or ignorance of the senior’s needs.

Financial Abuse: A very common form of abuse, financial abuse is characterized as the unauthorized use or taking of an elder’s funds or property by a caretaker, loved one or scam artist. This type of abuse can include the following actions: misuse of an elder’s personal checks; forging an elder’s signature; stealing cash, income checks or household goods; or announcing the elder has won a fake prize to steal his or her personal information.

Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse is caused by inflicting mental pain or distress. Emotional abuse can also be caused through verbal and nonverbal acts of intimidation, belittling, humiliation or threats.

Abandonment: This form of abuse takes place when an elder is deserted by anyone who has assumed caregiving responsibilities or custody of the elder. Abandonment is closely linked with neglect.

Self-neglect: At times, elders fail to perform essential tasks to care for themselves, which can end up threatening their health and safety. While this type of abuse does not involve direct abuse from other people, it is important to recognize this type of abuse and help the elder receive the care he or she needs.

Where does elder abuse take place?

Elder abuse takes place where elders live or spend time. Most often abuse takes place in an elder’s home, assisted living communities, a family member’s home or in elder communities or groups.

What are the warning signs of abuse?

At first, abuse signs may be hard to detect and may resemble common factors of aging such as frailty, symptoms of dementia or agitation. However, these signs should not be dismissed even if the caregiver or family member of the elder says they should be.

Some of the common signs of abuse include the following.

Physical Signs: bruises, pressure marks, abrasions, burns or broken bones.

Sexual Abuse Signs: bruising, especially around the chest and genital area.

Neglect: unattended medical or healthcare needs; poor hygiene; and weight loss or gain.

Financial Signs: small or large withdrawals from an elder’s accounts; changes in an elder’s financial status; missing items or cash; suspicious changes to wills, power of attorney or insurance policies; unpaid bills or a lack of funds for the elder’s care.

Emotional Signs: Unexplained isolation or withdrawal from social activities; a change in attention or alertness; lasting sadness or depression.

Abandonment Signs: Unattended medical or health care needs, weight loss, sadness, poor personal hygiene and withdrawal.

Self-neglect: Poor personal hygiene, self isolation, sadness, depression and changes in attention or alertness.

How you can help prevent elder abuse?

One of the best ways to prevent abuse is to listen to seniors. Watch for the warning signs of abuse and closely monitor relationships that you suspect by may be abusive. Another way to prevent abuse is by educating yourself and others about the types of abuse and how they can be identified.

Reporting Abuse

If someone is immediate danger, call 911 or your local police for help. If you suspect someone is being abused, you can visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website or call 1-800-490-8505 for any reports of abuse in Pennsylvania.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse, contact Newman Elder Law for legal assistance in both elder abuse or fraud recovery cases in Pennsylvania.

If you are outside of Pennsylvania and the greater Philadelphia area, contact a personal injury attorney for assistance with your legal needs.

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