How to Spot Elder Abuse

Unfortunately, there are some out there who will mistreat those who are vulnerable, including the elderly. At a certain point, it becomes elder abuse, and it’s one of the worst fears of those who have a loved one who is not fully able to fend for themselves. Elder abuse can be inflicted by a staff member in a residential institution, a fellow resident, a hired caregiver in the home, or even a family member. Our seniors deserve our gratitude and our respect, but a significant number of them are victimized and disrespected by the very people they trust. They cannot always do what it required to keep themselves safe.

Elder abuse is under-reported because so few of those who are harmed by it can speak out for themselves. Because of this, it is important that family members, assisted living staff, and friends know the signs and symptoms of elder abuse. Being able to recognize abuse is the first step to putting a stop to it. There are several types, including:

  • Malnourishment – refusing to provide required food or water which can lead to serious medical problems, starvation, dehydration, and sometimes death.
  • Physical Abuse – committing physically violent acts; punching, kicking, slapping, pushing, and pinching are a few examples.
  • Sexual Abuse – committing unwanted sexual acts; molestation, harassment, rape, forced oral sex, and unwelcomed sexual language are considered forms of sexual abuse.
  • Financial Abuse – refusing seniors access to their own money, stealing, or embezzling.
  • Refusal of Medical Care – refusing them access to their physician, or refusing to provide them with their required treatments or medications.
  • Psychological Abuse – verbal abuse, name calling, demoralization, refusing seniors access to psychological care
  • Emotional Abuse – refusing them access to loved ones, telling them that no one loves them or wants to visit with them, making them believe that they are alone and utterly unloved.
  • Neglect – not providing seniors with the necessary hygienic care (bathing, brushing their hair, changing their diapers), leaving them alone for long periods of time, not providing a clean, safe and comfortable environment (no heat or air conditioning, allowing for filthy living conditions), or allowing others to abuse them.

The signs and symptoms of elder abuse include:

  • Unexplained or poorly explained bruises, broken bones, burns, abrasions, and pressure marks
  • Sudden changes in personality not explained by mental illness
  • Tension in personal relationships with family, friends, or assisted living staff
  • Unexplained withdrawal from activities that used to bring joy

If you believe that someone you love is the victim of elder abuse, they must be immediately separated from their abuser and provided with a safe, comfortable environment where they can be cared for and protected. If the abuse is taking place in an assisted living facility or other institution, speak to someone in a managerial position (assuming they are not a participant in the abuse) as soon as you can. If those in charge do not take swift action to address the issue, seek outside help. If the abuse is being inflicted by a family member, talk to other members of the family who you think can be trusted. Every state has a hotline for reporting elder abuse that will put you in touch with Adult Protective Services. In California each county has their own 24-hour reporting number (for Los Angeles County call (877) 477-3646,  (800) 510-2020, or (888) 202-4248). Start there to find expert help. You may also choose to talk to a doctor or therapist.

For more information on elder abuse; what it is, what it looks like, how to stop it, or how to prevent it visit the National Center on Elder Abuse.