Elder Abuse You May Be Overlooking

The National Council on Aging reports that an estimated 1 out of every 10 Americans 60 years and over has experienced elder abuse. Elder abuse may be easy to miss, as it is often underreported, especially when the victim is also suffering from dementia or another mental impairment. Keep in mind that sometimes well-meaning caregivers inflict elder abuse upon their loved one without intending harm, as you will see below.

As the advocates of those older, it is our responsibility to know what elder abuse is, as well as how to recognize the signs that elder abuse is happening to someone we know. Let’s begin by looking at the different kinds of abuse.

Physical Elder Abuse

man puts head in hands as he thinks about elder abuse.

Elder abuse can happen to anyone.

Physical abuse includes any time physical pain is inflicted upon an older adult. While this type of elder abuse may be the easiest to define, it is not always the easiest to recognize. Because of the quality of the elderly person’s skin and diminished mobility, we often dismiss bruises we see. However, seniors who are abused are far more likely to show bruises than those who injure themselves accidentally. Keep your eyes open for unexplained bruises, cuts, burns, or bleeding. Take note of recurring injury, particularly if the person does not want to see a doctor for treatment.

Sexual Elder Abuse

Sexual abuse involves any unwanted sexual touches, or any sexual acts performed without consent of the person. Again, while this abuse appears to be easy to define, you may not see the signs that the abuse has occurred. The National Adult Protective Services Association advises us to remember that vulnerable adults with a diminished mental capacity are particularly at risk, and, due to their condition, are unable to give consent to sexual act. If you see any indication that a sexual assault has happened, take action immediately.

Emotional Elder Abuse

Emotional abuse involves creating emotional or psychological pain by humiliation, intimidation, or threats. This abuse may not have many physical signs, but you can still look for symptoms. Does the person appear to be more withdrawn? Does the person look scared around certain people, or as if he or she has to get permission before speaking?


Confinement can be something purposely harmful, like socially isolating someone, or it can be something done with good intentions, such as locking a person with dementia inside their house to keep the person safe. However, caregivers must understand the safety risks that accompany confinement. How would a person get to safety in a fire? How difficult would it be for emergency responders to enter a home that is locked?


Deprivation of an elder includes purposely withholding food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, or social needs. It can also include the abandonment of a vulnerable person without providing a solution to the person’s needs. Has an older adult suddenly stopped coming to church since moving in with a caregiver? Is the person unable to take phone calls or visits? Does the person appear to have suddenly lost a great deal of weight or have a diminished physical appearance?

Passive Neglect

This kind of abuse is unintentional, and is often a result of well-meaning but ill-equipped loved ones. We often see this when a family is trying to keep an older adult at home, but they do not have the ability to meet this person’s needs. Look for signs such as pressure sores, frequent ER visits due to UTIs or other infections, and caregiver fatigue. Sometimes the solution is home care that the family does not know is available, but other times it is important for the safety of the vulnerable adult to find placement in a skilled nursing community.

Financial Exploitation

Financial abuse includes the misuse, mishandling, or exploitation of an older adult’s property, assets, or possessions. Keep in mind that many older adults give their children permission to access their bank accounts, but the family member must still use that account in the older adult’s best interests. Also remember that as long as an adult has the cognitive ability to give consent to a family member, they are able to provide shelter and money to someone, even if we on the outside are concerned that people are taking advantage of the older adult. However, look for signs such as a diminished bank account, strangers suddenly becoming close friends of an older adult, or any sudden changes in a financial situation.

Self Neglect

The final type of abuse is something that a senior can do to himself. Self neglect happens when a vulnerable adult cannot meet their own essential physical, psychological, or social needs, which threatens their health, safety and well-being. This includes failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, and health care for one’s own needs. You can find more information about self neglect here.

If you think someone you care about is a victim of abuse in their home, contact Adult Protective Services at their 24-hour hotline at (866) 800-1409. If you believe someone may be a victim of abuse in a licensed facility, contact your local ombudsman (you can find your local resource here).

Providence Solutions is also always happy to help step in and make sure you know all the resources available to you! Feel free to contact us at (708) 342-8090, or terri@providencelifesolutions.com, or fill out the form below.