7 Signs of Elder Abuse

Senior woman with a black eye

With a growing population of elderly Americans who must rely on caretakers, mistreatment of the elderly is a growing problem in this country. However, elder abuse isn't just physical. It can also encompass neglect and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults by either caretakers or trusted friends and family members. Learning to recognize the signs of elder abuse and neglect can help you protect your loved ones.

Signs of Elder Abuse

Regardless of whether a senior citizen is living independently at home, working with an in-home caregiver, or in an elder care facility such as a nursing home or assisted living, abuse can and does occur. It is important that people remain alert for signs of physical, emotional, and financial abuse as well as neglect.

#1 - Unexplained Physical Injuries and Symptoms

If an elderly friend, family member, neighbor, or acquaintance has visible signs of injury, physical abuse or neglect may be occurring. Of course, some people are more naturally prone to injury, so it is important to attempt to learn how injuries were sustained. Physical injury can occur as a result of physical abuse, neglect, inappropriate restraint, and sexual abuse. According to HelpGuide.org, physical injuries and signs may include:

  • Cuts and abrasions
  • Bruising and welts
  • Broken bones
  • Broken eyeglasses
  • Drug overdose
  • Rope marks on wrists
  • Sprains or dislocations

#2 - Poor Personal and Home Hygiene

An elderly adult receiving improper or neglectful care may also display poor personal and environmental hygiene. According to the Bright Focus, an organization that advocates for those with dementia, any of the following types of poor hygiene may indicate neglect:

  • Appearing unwashed or unkempt
  • Lacking in basic hygiene such as hair washing or tooth brushing
  • Lacking clothing that is seasonally appropriate
  • A cluttered or dirty home
  • A home that is in disrepair
  • A home lacking in important services such as electricity or water

#3 - Medical Neglect

Bright Focus states an elder may show signs of medical neglect, as well including:

  • Lack of important medical aids such as hearing aids, eyeglasses, or walkers
  • Lack of food or malnourishment
  • Improper administration of medication
  • Untreated bed and pressure sores

#4 - Abandonment

The State of Oregon notes that inappropriate abandonment may be a sign of neglect or abuse. For example, abandonment may occur:

  • When a person who is bedridden or suffering from dementia is left alone
  • When an elder with a caregiver is left alone inappropriately in a public place such as a supermarket

#5 - Uneasy or Unusual Relationship with Caregiver

The person may also show signs of strain in her relationship with a specific caregiver, according to HelpGuide.org. These signs may include:

  • Regular arguments or tension between the elderly adult and the caregiver
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • The caregiver isolating the senior citizen
  • Caregiver will not allow anyone to drop by unexpectedly
  • Caregiver behaves in an uncaring or aggressive manner to the elderly adult

#6 - Unusual Financial Behavior

The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse notes that many signs of financial exploitation may occur as unusual financial behavior including:

  • Unpaid bills
  • Eviction notices
  • Missing belongings and property
  • Extravagant gift giving
  • Suddenly having a new best friend
  • Checks or financial documents signed with an unrecognizable or suspicious signature
  • Missing financial documentation
  • The elder does not know or understand what financial arrangements have been made on his behalf
  • Large unexplained withdrawals or frequent banking transfers
  • Signed powers of attorney and other legal documents made by an elder who does not understand what she has signed
  • The elder no longer receives his canceled checks or bank statements - they go to someone else
  • Unusual or unbelievable explanations of financial arrangements on the senior citizen's behalf made by a caregiver or trusted person

# 7 - Uncharacteristic Personality or Behavioral Changes

According to the American Society on Aging, an abused or neglected elder may also show unusual or unexplainable behavior changes, such as:

  • Verbally reporting abuse
  • Withdrawing from regular activities or relationships
  • Displaying fear, depression, anxiety, and nervousness
  • Startling easily
  • Avoiding eye contact or darting eyes quickly around
  • Experiencing changed sleep patterns or nightmares
  • Displaying apathy
  • Making psychosomatic complaints
  • Displaying fearful behavior in the presence of just one person
  • Engaging in regression behaviors such as rocking or sucking
  • Having mood swings

Keeping Elders Safe

If you suspect elder neglect or abuse, it is important to take quick action. There are a number of community resources for elder abuse, such as state-run Elder Protective Services programs, which are typically administered through the state's Department of Social and Health Services. By acting quickly when you suspect abuse, you can help improve a senior citizen's life.

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7 Signs of Elder Abuse