Unfortunately, seniors are often vulnerable to various types of elder abuse, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, financial abuse or exploitation, and neglect or self-neglect. In some cases, the only person in a position to help is the very one who is perpetrating the abuse, which can include professional caregivers, friends, or even close family. Seniors, especially in those cases, often feel trapped and alone.
However, there are ways that you can help. One way is by reporting suspected cases of elder abuse to the authorities. In order to do so, you’ll have to know what to look for. There are common signs of elder abuse. If you can identify them, you might save someone’s life.
Physical abuse is the intentional use of force that results in pain, injury, or impairment to an elderly victim. It can include striking (with or without an object), shaking or inappropriately restraining a victim, intentionally giving inappropriate medications to a victim, or force-feeding a victim, among other acts.
Signs of physical abuse include:
- Bruising (multicolored bruising can indicate bruising over time), lacerations, punctures, or welts
- Sprains, dislocations, fractures, or broken bones
- Burn marks
- Recurring or unexplained injuries
- Poorly treated or untreated injuries
- Injuries in areas usually covered by clothing
- Poor skin condition/hygiene
- Hair loss
- Dehydration or malnutrition
- Weight loss
- Soiled clothing or bedding
- An unclean environment (smells of feces or urine)
- Depression or withdrawal
- Hesitation to talk openly
- Fearfulness of caregivers
- Confusing or contradictory statements or accounts of injuries
- Unexplained agitation
- Denial of injuries
Sexual abuse refers to sexual contact with an elderly person that is non-consensual. An elderly person who lacks mental capacity cannot grant consent. Sexual abuse of elders includes forced nudity or taking sexually explicit photographs, unwanted touching, sexual battery, or rape.
Signs of sexual abuse include:
- Torn or stained undergarments
- Bruising on the breasts or genitals
- Unexplained bleeding from the genital or anal area
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Unexplained genital infections or sexually transmitted diseases
- Unusual behavior (withdrawn or overly aggressive)
- Inappropriate interactions between the victim and the perpetrator
Psychological or Emotional Abuse
Psychological or emotional abuse is the intentional infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through either verbal or non-verbal conduct.
Signs of psychological or emotional abuse include:
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Increased levels of stress (higher blood pressure)
- Problems sleeping
- Depressed, withdrawn, or confused
- Visibly fearful in the presence of the perpetrator
- Displays unusual behavior or nervous tics (rocking, biting, scratching, etc.)
Financial Abuse or Exploitation
In general, elder financial abuse or exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an elderly person's assets. This can include manipulation of a senior's bank accounts, real property, or other financial interests; pressuring a senior to sign estate planning documents; identity theft; and phone or email scams.
Signs of financial abuse or exploitation include:
- New "best friends"
- Family or friends who were previously distant now appear to be more involved.
- Suspicious signatures on accounts
- New names added to accounts or property titles
- Recently signed legal documents that an elderly person cannot explain
- Recent (and perhaps multiple) revisions to an estate plan
- Withdrawals or transfers that an elderly person cannot explain
- Possessions go missing
- Mail for a senior's various financial accounts has been redirected to a new address
- Unpaid bills and notices of default or eviction
- New and unnecessary services are provided
- Services seem inadequate especially when compared to the size of a senior's estate
- Confusion and lack of understanding about financial arrangements
- The constant need to consult another person before making financial decisions
- Embarrassment or feelings of guilt
- Increased levels of stress and anxiety
- Isolation from loved ones (from pressure by the perpetrator or from self-isolation)
Neglect and Self-Neglect
Neglect is a caregiver's refusal to provide for the necessary care of an elder. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional. On the other hand, elder self-neglect also involves the lack of necessary care for seniors, but without any third-party perpetrator as the neglect is a result of the elderly person's own action or inaction.
Signs of neglect or self-neglect include:
- Poor personal hygiene (dirty nails/skin, matted or lice-infested hair, presence of feces or urine)
- Bedsores or skin rashes
- Untreated infections or unattended injuries
- Dehydration or malnutrition
- Weight loss
- Unsanitary living conditions (foul odors, animal/insect infestations, piles of trash)
- Unsafe living conditions (inadequate plumbing, heating/air, ventilation, disrepair)
- Lack of food in the residence
- Inadequate or unclean clothing
- Lack of medical aids (hearing aids, glasses, dentures)
- Unpaid bills
- Emotionally detached
- Refusal to seek outside help
- Inadequate or inconsistent sleep
- Sudden loss of appetite that is not related to any medical conditions
Reporting Elder Abuse
If you suspect that an elderly person is being subjected to abuse, it’s important to immediately report the abuse to your local Adult Protective Services agency or your local law enforcement agency. For more information on reporting, see FindLaw's "Reporting Elder Abuse."
There may also be legal remedies available to victims of elder abuse. Because elder abuse laws vary by state, you should contact an attorney in your area that specializes in elder law to determine what legal remedies are available. To find an elder law attorney near you, use FindLaw’s attorney directory.
For more information on elder abuse generally, see FindLaw’s "Elder Abuse Overview" and "Dealing With Elder Abuse," or the information provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse.