Signs Of Older Adult Abuse

This article lists the typical signs of older adult abuse for physical, sexual, psychological,  emotional, and financial abuse. It also includes the common signs of neglect or self-neglect.

Unfortunately, adults over 65 are vulnerable to abuse. Americans filed more than 15,000 reports of nursing home abuse in 2020 alone.

Abuse can happen anywhere. It can happen at a long-term care facility or the older person's home. Several factors increase the risk of elder abuse. These include mental illness, social isolation, a lack of mobility, and a lack of financial resources. The following is a list of various types of elder abuse.

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Financial exploitation
  • Neglect
  • Self-neglect

Sometimes, the only person in a position to help is the one committing the abuse. The abuser can include professional caregivers, healthcare professionals, nursing home staff, friends, or even close family members. Older adults often feel trapped and alone when the abuser is someone they trust.

There are several ways you can help prevent mistreatment and suspected abuse. One way is by reporting suspected elder abuse cases to law enforcement authorities or social services. To do so, you'll have to know the warning signs.

This article lists the typical signs of older adult abuse, including physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse. It also includes the common symptoms of neglect or self-neglect.

Physical Abuse

If you can identify the common signs of physical elder abuse, you might save someone's life.

Physical abuse is the intentional use of force that results in pain, physical injury, or impairment to an older victim.

It can include:

  • Striking (with or without an object)
  • Shaking or inappropriately restraining a victim
  • Intentionally giving inappropriate medications to a victim
  • Force-feeding a victim
  • Other abusive acts or mistreatment

Physical Signs of Abuse

Domestic violence or physical abuse typically leaves signs on the body. These may be hidden or purposefully placed under clothing or unseen areas:

  • Bruising (multicolored bruising can mean 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
  • Broken eyeglasses
  • 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

Sudden changes to someone's physical appearance, mood, or actions are a warning sign to loved ones and medical care professionals.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse refers to sexual contact with an older person that is non-consensual. An older person who lacks mental capacity cannot grant consent.

Sexual abuse of older adults includes forced nudity or taking sexually explicit photographs, unwanted touching, sexual battery, or rape.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • 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 Abuse 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

  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Increased levels of stress (higher blood pressure)
  • Increased health problems
  • Problems sleeping
  • Depressed, withdrawn, or confused
  • Visibly fearful in the presence of the perpetrator
  • Non-responsive
  • Displays unusual behavior or nervous tics (rocking, biting, scratching, etc.)

Financial Abuse or Exploitation

Older adult financial abuse or exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an older person's assets and financial resources.

This can include manipulating an older person's bank accounts, real property, or other financial interests. It also includes pressuring an older person to take action, such as signing estate planning documents. It includes identity theft, fraud, and phone or email scams.

Signs of Financial Abuse or Exploitation

  • New "best friends"
  • Family or friends who were distant now are more involved
  • Suspicious signatures on accounts
  • New names added to accounts or property titles
  • Recently signed legal documents that an older person cannot explain
  • Recent (and perhaps many) revisions to an estate plan
  • Withdrawals or transfers that an older person cannot explain
  • Possessions go missing
  • Mail for an older adult'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 when compared with the size of an older adult'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 self-isolation)

Neglect and Self-Neglect

Neglect is a caregiver's refusal to provide for the necessary care of an older person. It is intentional or unintentional. It can happen in the older person's home or assisted living facility.

But, elder self-neglect is the lack of necessary care for an older adult without any third-party perpetrator — the neglect results from the older person's own action or inaction.

Signs of Neglect or Self-Neglect

  • 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 home
  • Inadequate or unclean clothing
  • Lack of medical aids (hearing aids, glasses, dentures)
  • Unpaid bills
  • Emotionally detached
  • Refusal to seek outside help
  • Self-destructive
  • Inadequate or inconsistent sleep
  • Sudden loss of appetite that is not related to any medical conditions

Reporting Elder Abuse and Neglect

Suppose you suspect that an elderly person is being abused. In that case, it's important to immediately report the abuse to your local Adult Protective Services (APS), a nursing home ombudsman, or your local law enforcement agency.

For more information on reporting, see FindLaw's Reporting Elder Abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse website is also an excellent resource for learning about elder abuse prevention and intervention.

If you or someone you know is suffering from elder abuse, call the hotlines below:

The National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-372-8311

The Eldercare Locator Helpline: 1-800-677-1116

Taking Legal Action for Older Adult Abuse

There may also be legal remedies available to victims of older adult abuse. Abuse laws vary by state, so you should contact an attorney specializing in elder abuse law.

They can help you determine what legal remedies are available. To find an elder law attorney near you, use FindLaw's attorney directory.

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