How to Recognize and Report Elder Abuse

Elder-AbuseImagine this: you have an elderly neighbor who’s usually cordial and talkative. One day, you see her on her porch and decide to say hello. Instead of engaging in conversation, she seems quiet, withdrawn, and maybe even a little nervous. Then, you notice a large bruise on her forehead and, when you ask, she’s unable to give a plausible explanation as to what happened. You start to wonder, ‘Is this elder abuse?’

Elder abuse is a serious issue that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. What’s more, abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly are more common than you might think. Indeed, as many as ten percent of the elderly population have experienced some form of abuse, and even more are at risk. Thankfully, through awareness and education, there are ways you can help.

Keep reading for more information, including tips on recognizing and reporting elder abuse.


Why Elder Abuse Happens

There are a variety of factors that contribute to elder abuse. For example, family caregivers rarely get the support they need in providing full-time care to an elderly or infirm loved one. This can result in overwhelming stress, tension, exhaustion and even resentment. And when it comes to abuse perpetrated by a professional caregiver, a lack of training, understaffing, low pay, long hours and poor supervision can all contribute to sub-par care and client abuse.


Recognizing Elder Abuse

There are several different types of elder abuse, each of which is associated with its own signs and risk factors. The following lists the most common forms of abuse, as well as tips on recognizing the different signs and symptoms:

  • Physical abuse. Red flags include unexplained bruises, cuts or abrasions, as well as skittish or fearful behavior. For example, if an elderly loved one has suffered recurring injuries, with no explanation (or odd, unbelievable explanations), or flinches at physical contact, he or she could be experiencing abuse.
  • Verbal or emotional abuse. This type of abuse includes yelling, threatening, name-calling, humiliation or ridicule, forced isolation, etc. Signs include strained relationships between caregivers and clients, social withdrawal, mood swings, depression and nervous or fearful behavior.
  • Neglect. According to, neglect can be difficult to determine, but it is one of the most common forms of elder abuse. It is associated with signs like poor hygiene, soiled clothing or bedding, weight loss, bed sores, deteriorating health as a result of a lack of care or failure to administer medications, an unusually messy home, etc.
  • Sexual abuse. The signs of sexual abuse include bruising or swelling on the breasts or genitalia, rectal or vaginal bleeding, evidence of sexually transmitted disease, inappropriate behavior on the part of a caregiver, depression, mood swings and other signs of emotional trauma.
  • Financial exploitation. Financial exploitation is characterized by stealing or misappropriating the funds of an elderly individual. Signs include money that’s missing or unaccounted for, unpaid bills, frequent cash withdrawals, increased use of credit cards, or adding a caregiver’s name to bank accounts.


Reporting Elder Abuse

So, how do we help the neighbor or loved one who displays the signs of elderly abuse? First of all, in cases of severe neglect, calling 911 immediately is essential to the elderly individual’s health, safety and quality of life. The police will likely investigate and contact the proper authorities.

If you suspect verbal, emotional or financial abuse, you have a number of options in reporting these crimes. First, you can make your suspicions known to a trusted family member. If this doesn’t help, you can contact the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) in your state, and report what you know to Adult Protective Services.

If you spot the signs of elder abuse, the important thing is to tell someone, and don’t give up until the situation is resolved. And, with the tips provided here, you’re better equipped at recognizing elderly abuse, and reporting these serious crimes.

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