Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors| Last updated March 04, 2021
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
Recurring or unexplained injuries
Poorly treated or untreated injuries
Injuries in areas usually covered by clothing
Poor skin condition/hygiene
Dehydration or malnutrition
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
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Unusual behavior (withdrawn or overly aggressive)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)
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
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)
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.