The signs of elder abuse depend on the type of elder abuse — physical, financial, and emotional abuse are some of the most common. Besides obvious signs of injury, any negative changes to an elderly person’s mood and hygiene should be red flags, as well as any anxiety around finances.
If you suspect elder abuse, ask questions, and take care to document your suspicions. Elder abuse can shorten lifespans and threatens the dignity and quality of life of the elderly person. Learn how to identify elder abuse and prepare yourself to advocate for this vulnerable population.
Types of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse comes in different forms. Often, different types of abuse occur simultaneously.
These are the most common types of elder abuse:
- Financial Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Emotional / Psychological Abuse
- Physical Abuse
Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of self-reported elder abuse. Family members are the most likely to engage in financial elder abuse, followed by caretakers.
When financial abuse takes place in a financial institution, a family member may be in the best position to recognize the signs of elder financial abuse.
Loved ones should be on alert for the following signs of elder financial abuse:
- Sudden changes in a will or beneficiary forms.
- Missing cash and other valuables.
- Unpaid bills. If an elderly person suddenly has trouble making regular payments, they may be the victim of theft.
- Unauthorized withdrawals.
- The addition of an unfamiliar name to an elderly person’s brokerage account, checking account, or credit card.
- Forged signatures on financial documents. In certain cases, a financial professional or family member may add themselves to an elderly person’s account to make unauthorized withdrawals.
- Transfers to a third party with no explanation.
- Any abrupt changes to spending habits.
- Unusual transactions.
- Sudden inability to access financial records.
SEC Allegations of Financial Elder Abuse
In November 2021, the SEC charged an investment adviser with persuading three elderly investors to transfer $800,000 out of their investment accounts. The adviser allegedly told his clients that the money would go toward tax-free bonds. The SEC alleges the bonds did not exist and the adviser instead used the money to pay for personal expenses.
Signs of Elder Sexual Abuse
Seniors who rely on caregivers or nursing homes for day-to-day care may be victims of elder sexual abuse. The following are all common indications of elder sexual abuse:
- Bruising or other injuries to intimate areas.
- Evidence that an elderly person has been shown pornography against their will.
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.
Alleged Sexual Assault in a Long-Term Care Facility
One lawsuit alleges that an elderly woman in Texas was sexually assaulted by a fellow resident. Despite the fact the facility allegedly knew about the man’s actions, the staff allegedly did not take steps to protect the female patient, who had dementia and was not able to consent. One staff member reportedly admitted that they knew the woman was incapacitated.
Signs of Elder Emotional Abuse
If an elderly person seems withdrawn or depressed, loved ones should take steps to determine the reason behind the elderly person’s distress.
Elder emotional abuse might include:
- Isolating the elder person from friends and family
- Shouting at or otherwise intimidating the elderly person
- Habitually ignoring the elderly person
Be aware of the following signs of elder emotional abuse:
- Loss of self-esteem
- Deteriorating relationship between the victim and perpetrator
Alleged Romance Scams and Elder Emotional Abuse
The elderly may experience emotional abuse as part of a plan to misappropriate their estate. Actress Edie McClurg was placed under a conservatorship after a man purporting to be her boyfriend claimed to want to marry the actress, even though she suffered from dementia. Her family alleges the man was verbally abusive and sought to interfere with her estate.
Signs of Elder Physical Abuse
As with psychological abuse, a sudden change in behavior may be one of the first warning signs of elder physical abuse. In the worst cases, physical abuse or neglect may lead to a wrongful death case.
Family members should also look out for the following:
- Unexplained bruises, broken bones, brain bleeds, burns, cuts, or lacerations.
- Significant weight loss.
- Signs that the elderly person is receiving either too high or too low of a dose of their medicine. These suspicions may need to be confirmed with a lab report.
- Indications that the elderly person has been restrained, such as bruising or rope marks.
- Wounds at various stages of healing.
- Broken eyeglasses.
- Urinary tract infections.
- Infections or sepsis.
Physical Elder Abuse at a Nursing Home
After a woman spotted bruises on her mother’s face on a visit to her senior living facility, a staff member was accused of abuse. According to criminal charges, the facility director allegedly attempted to help cover up the abuse. The director has since been arrested.
Signs of Elder Neglect
Elder neglect is a common form of elder abuse. Loved ones should look out for generally unsanitary living conditions — dirty clothes and unwashed sheets should be red flags. Other signs of neglect could include untreated infections, like UTIs. Relatives should also be concerned if they find an elderly person wandering away from the nursing home grounds.
Bedsores and Dehydration
Bedsores and dehydration are common signs of elder neglect. Both are preventable with proper care.
What are Bedsores?
Bedsores are ulcers that appear on elderly patients who have been allowed to sit or lay in one position for a prolonged period. Typically, bedsores appear on pressure points such as the shoulder blade, the heels, or the tailbone. They can be a sign of malnutrition and poor skin care.
Why is Dehydration Dangerous for the Elderly?
Dehydration is of special concern for elderly people. It can quickly lead to cognitive impairment and impaired organ function.
Signs of dehydration include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dark urine
- Sticky mouth
- Weight loss
Nursing Home Allegations of Neglect
One nursing home in upstate New York recently agreed to pay $7.1 million to resolve claims that it delivered “worthless services” to residents, evidenced by the prevalence of unnecessary falls and bed sores among residents. Similar suits have been filed against multiple nursing homes since 2020. Certain chain nursing homes were allegedly driven by profits to spend as little as possible on the day-to-day care of their residents.
Elder self-neglect is an area of concern for elderly people who live alone. Adult Protective Services (APS) will intervene if an elderly person poses a danger to their own well-being with squalid living conditions and lack of healthcare.
Elder Abuse Statistics
The elderly (and their families) should know that elder abuse is more common than they might think. Approximately 1 in 10 elderly people who live at home suffer from some form of elder abuse or neglect, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- Women are more likely to suffer from elder abuse than men. They may also suffer from more severe elder abuse over a longer period.
- Those over 80 may be especially vulnerable to elder abuse or neglect.
- People with cognitive impairments, such as dementia, are even more likely to suffer from elder abuse.
- According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), family members perpetrate abuse in 6 out of 10 cases. In two-thirds of cases, a spouse or an adult child is responsible for the abuse.
- Elder abuse is underreported – one study estimates that only one in 24 cases is reported to the authorities.
How to Report Elder Neglect or Abuse
If you suspect elder abuse, call someone who can help. You may reach out to a nursing home official, an elder abuse attorney, or local Adult Protective Services. The Eldercare Locator website can provide contact information for relevant agencies in your state. There is also a hotline for people suffering from domestic abuse: 1-800-799-7233. No matter what the circumstances, there is no reason to allow the signs of elder abuse to go ignored.