Elder Abuse

Recognize and prevent elder abuse and neglect

Elder abuse is a serious and growing problem, and it's one that can be difficult to detect. It is defined as any ongoing action or lack of action which violates a situation of trust between the elder and the abuser, resulting in physical, financial or psychological harm to the elder. While elder abuse in nursing homes is probably the most prominent manifestation of the problem, elder abuse and neglect occurs in many different settings, including the elder's own home. It can be perpetrated by friends, family members, neighbors or those responsible for caregiving.

How to Recognize Elder Abuse

Elder abuse isn't always easy to spot, particularly in situations in which illness has left the elder with limited communication skills or abilities. There is also a wide range of situations which are considered elder abuse, including physical abuse and neglect, psychological abuse, theft and manipulation of the elder's finances.

General warning signs that elder abuse may be occurring include tension or infighting between the elder and his or her caregivers as well as sudden and unexpected changes in the elder's demeanor or temperament which are not caused by an illness or medical condition.

Signs of physical and emotional abuse include:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Symptoms of restraint (such as marks on the wrists from being tied down)
  • A caregiver's reluctance to let you be alone with the elder, or the elder's reluctance to be left alone with the caregiver
  • Withdrawn behavior on the part of the elder
  • Aggression or anger on the part of a caregiver

Signs of financial abuse include:

  • Large and unexplained withdrawals from the elder's bank account
  • Sudden changes in the elder's financial security
  • Unpaid bills
  • Missing valuables
  • The purchase of unnecessary or unwanted goods or services
  • Physically impossible financial transactions (such as ATM withdrawals from banks the elder could not possibly have visited in person)

Also, look for evidence of under- or over-medication, and be mindful of the possibility of duplicate billing using the elder's health insurance plan. Duplicate medical billing is one of the most common forms of elder abuse.

Sexual abuse of older people is rare, but it does occur. Signs include bruising around the genitalia and stained or bloodied undergarments.

Elder abuse law aims to protect senior citizens from unscrupulous people who seek to take advantage of them. If you suspect a case of elder abuse, report it to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible.