What are the Warning Signs of Elder Abuse?


As the Baby Boomer population ages up, more and more individuals are living longer than ever before. The percentage of older Americans may be increasing, but along with it, so are the national rates of elder abuse, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). A particularly heinous crime, the exploitation, neglect or physical assault of older individuals truly hits home. When reading about these crimes, you can’t help but visualize your own mom or dad, teacher, grandparent or mentor and remember the care they provided others when they were young and strong. Ironically, the abuse of these now-fragile, vulnerable individuals is often at the hand of a family member, friend or “trusted caregiver” and is never reported on at all.

Is It What You Think It Is?

Sometimes, the warning signs of elder abuse are subtle, or, they may be explained away, either by the victim or by the perpetrator. According to the Administration on Aging (AOA), changes in a senior’s personality or behavior may be red flags, signaling you to be alert to the situation. Signs of elder abuse can include:

  • Signs of physical assault, such as pressure marks, broken bones, burns, bruises and abrasions
  • Bruises or broken bones, explained as being caused by constant falls
  • Signs of sexual assault, such as bruising around the breasts, thighs, genitals or pressure marks on the wrists, hands or upper arms
  • Depression, crying, anxiousness or withdrawal from activities
  • Expressions of self-hatred or shame
  • Cryptic communication, as if the elder is trying to tell you something without actually saying it
  • Signs of poor nutrition or dehydration, or no ready access to food in the home
  • Weight loss not associated with a medical condition
  • A change in bank accounts, legal documents or missing items from the home
  • Medications not being taken or administered
  • Bedsores, strong and consistent urine smell, lack of personal hygiene, unshaven face or unkempt hair
  • Needed items such as dentures or glasses not being worn
  • Dirty bed linens, soiled clothing or overall dirtiness in the home
  • Uncontrolled rodents or insect infestation in the home
  • Arguments or visible, tense relationship between the elder and another person, with use of belittling comments, cursing, shouting or shaming

Elderly victims, like all victims, do not always do what they can to stop the situation. They may love their abuser and not want to get them in trouble, or may feel intimidated and afraid to speak.

You should not keep silent if you suspect elder abuse. The AOA stresses that any abuse, either suspected or confirmed be reported to authorities who are trained to handle the situation and urge individuals to not attempt to rectify the situation on their own.