Identifying Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.

This type of violence constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect. It tends to happen where the senior lives: where their abusers are often adult children, other family members such as grandchildren, or a spouse or partner or in institutional settings, especially long-term care facilities.

Physical elder abuse – The non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that results in physical pain, injury, or impairment. Such abuse includes not only physical assaults such as hitting or shoving but the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, or confinement.

Emotional elder abuse – The treatment of an older adult in ways that cause emotional or psychological pain or distress, including:

  • Intimidation through yelling or threats
  • Humiliation and ridicule
  • Habitual blaming or scapegoating
  • Ignoring the elderly person
  • Isolating an elder from friends or activities
  • Terrorizing an elder

Elder neglect – Failure to fulfil a caretaking obligation. This constitutes more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. It can be intentional or unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial that an elderly charge needs as much care as they do.

Financial exploitation – The unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property, usually by a caregiver or a scam artist.

  • Misuse an elder’s personal checks, credit cards, or accounts
  • Steal cash, income checks, or household goods
  • Forge the elder’s signature
  • Engage in identity theft

Healthcare fraud and abuse – Carried out by unethical doctors, nurses, hospital personnel, and other professional care providers. This can include:

  • Overcharging or double-billing for medical care or services
  • Getting kickbacks for referrals to other providers or for prescribing certain drugs
  • Overmedicating or under medicating
  • Recommending fraudulent remedies for illnesses or other medical conditions

Signs of elder abuse can be difficult to recognize or mistaken for symptoms of dementia or the elderly person’s frailty—or caregivers may explain them to you that way. In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them on the caregiver’s say-so.

Much about elder abuse is secretive, and thus accurate research can be hard to come by. It’s important to shed light on the realities of elder abuse in order to encourage more seniors to speak up about abuse.

  • Physical Abuse: When an older adult is being physically abused, there will be physical signs present on their body, such as bruising, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and even burn marks.
  • Emotional Abuse: Signs of emotional abuse are difficult to identify; if your loved one is withdrawing from regular activities without explanation, experiencing depression or a strain in their personal relationships, or having frequent arguments with caregivers, it might be a sign that they are being emotionally abused.
  • Financial Abuse: The abuse can be personal, with family members or spouses stealing from bank accounts, but it can also include different types of fraud from spam or phishing emails from unknown sources
  • Neglect: If an older person is being neglected, they are not being provided the quality of care they need in order to thrive and remain healthy. This can include withholding physical or medical care, which can result in bedsores; not providing meals, leading to malnourishment; or not providing general daily care services, which can result in poor hygiene.

Any older person can be at risk for elder abuse, as it crosses all socioeconomic groups, cultures, and races. If you suspect an elderly acquaintance or loved one is being abuse, report your concerns to the relevant authorities

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