Retirement Planning, Elder Law and Senior Finance

Every year, an estimated one to two million elders are abused. Some studies suggest that one in ten people over 60 has experienced some form of abuse. However, only about one in 14 cases is reported. Elder abuse comes in different forms: physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, and neglect. Elderly people more at risk of abuse include those who live alone with a caregiver and those that are socially isolated. People with cognitive issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s are also at risk. If an elderly person is already in poor health, they are also more at risk to be a victim of abuse.

The How and Why of Elder Abuse

Sometimes abusers act because they want to feel like they’re “in charge,” and they like the feeling of power over someone. Other times, the perpetrator feels entitled, or is spurred by theft or embezzlement. In some cases, caregiver stress and extreme frustration are to blame.

Doctors and nurses, who are usually trained to watch for signs that elderly people are being mistreated, sometimes fail to notice the signs, or dismiss the signs as something else. Misconceptions and myths about older people contribute to this situation. Old people bruise easily and just get unexplained injuries. They confuse easily, and can’t explain what’s going on. However, with careful observation of both the elderly person and their caregiver, elder abuse can be identified.

Whether the abuser is a family caregiver or a paid one, doctors, nurses, and social workers agree on some signs that point to elder abuse. In addition to physical signs like injuries, pay attention to how the elderly person interacts with their caregiver. Is the caregiver loud and threatening, or kind? Does the older person seem at ease with the caregiver, or are they anxious and intimidated? The behavior of caregiver and older person can reveal a lot about their relationship. Below are more specific signs to help you identify elder abuse.

Physical Signs of Abuse

Physical abuse means any acts of violence that result in pain, including misuse of medication and sexual abuse. Unexplained welts or scratches may also point to physical abuse. Look for those with pattern; for example, if the injury has the pattern of a belt buckle or a hand. Burns are a possible sign of abuse, as are sprains, dislocations, and broken bones, especially if bones have healed without being set. Head injuries are also common in elder abuse cases. Also watch for multiple injuries in different stages of healing. This suggests repeated intentional injuries. Finger or thumb marks, imprints, or bruises, especially on wrists or ankles are another possible sign.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse is a common type of elder abuse. This includes shouting at, berating, or harassing the elderly person. It also includes isolating the older person from friends, family, or activities. Some signs of this type of abuse include depression and apathy. Experts also suggest watching how the elderly person responds to their caregiver. If they are fearful, anxious, or seem intimidated by their caregiver, that might point to emotional or psychological abuse.

Signs of Neglect

Neglect is also a form of abuse. Signs of neglect include poor hygiene, dirty fingernails and toenails, and body odor. Is the senior improperly dressed for the weather? This could be another sign. Watch for dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss. Inspect medical devices like hearing aids, glasses, dentures, and walkers. If they are in poor shape or they are missing, this could be a sign of neglect. Be on the alert for any indication that the elderly person was left alone for a long period of time.


If you suspect a loved one is a victim of elder abuse, or you are a victim yourself, click here for more helpful resources.