Recognizing the signs of elder abuse

Liz Miller

Recognizing the signs of elder abuse

What Is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day?

The United Nations designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) according to WHO:

“Elder abuse can be defined as 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.’”

Elder abuse comes in a variety of both intentional and unintentional forms related to neglect and systematic abuse or abuse around financial, physical, psychological, and sexual care.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) estimates that 1 in 10 older people suffer from some type of abuse every year. Yet the signs of elder abuse often go unreported and abusers go unpunished.

Abuse is not limited to those living in elder care homes or communities, but rather many times abuse is propagated by relatives or friends of the older person.

How Do You Recognize Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse may become apparent in multiple different ways and the most common difference is a change in the behavior of a loved one including their mental, physical, or financial attitudes.

There is no one specific way to recognize this but some signs may include:

  • Weight loss or malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Poor hygiene
  • Hesitating to talk freely or making up irrational stories
  • Anxiety, depression, fear, or confusion
  • Injuries such as bruises, cuts, burns, or broken bones
  • Unexplained loss of money, excessive gift-giving, or inability to access finances
  • Withdrawal from friends and family members
  • Bedsores or ulcers
  • Missing medical aids such as walkers, dentures, glasses, medications, or hearing aids
  • Unclean or unsafe living conditions

While elder abuse can happen to any older adult, certain factors put some older adults at higher risk than others. Usually, those most at risk are over the age of 80 and female according to research by Northwestern University and WHO. Those who are isolated, in poor health, or cared for by a live-in caregiver who depends on them financially may also have a greater risk for abuse.

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Recognizing the signs of elder abuse
Recognizing the signs of elder abuse
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How can elder abuse be prevented?

Education is critical to preventing elder abuse. Older adults, family, friends, professionals, caregivers, and the public need to know the signs and what to do.

How Can Older Adults Stay Safe

  • Stay healthy!
  • Seeking professional help for drugs, alcoholism, and depression concerns
  • Encourage family members to get help for drugs, alcoholism, and depression problems.
  • Plan your aging process. Use a power of attorney or a living will to customize your health care decisions and avoid confusion and family problems later.
  • Seek independent advice from someone you trust before signing any documents.
  • Review your will periodically.
  • Stay active in your community and connect with friends and family.
  • Do not give out personal information on the phone or allow someone else to manage your mail.
  • Use direct deposit for all checks.
  • Have your own phone.
  • Knowing your rights if you are living in long term care or paying for care you have rights!
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Recognizing the signs of elder abuse
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Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect? Get Help Today!

Never ignore signs of elder abuse. Your parents, grandparents, and other elderly relatives do not deserve to suffer. If you suspect your loved one is in danger, report it. Call 911 immediately to address any urgent concerns.

Another way to report suspected abuse is to connect with your local Adult Protective Services agency. To find the reporting number for your state, call the Eldercare Locator.

Eldercare Locator

800-677-1116 (toll-free)

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - Office for Older Americans

855-411-2372 (toll-free)

National Adult Protective Services Association


National Center on Elder Abuse

855-500-3537 (toll-free)

National Domestic Violence Hotline

800-799-7233 (toll-free, 24/7) 800-787-3224 (TTY/toll-free)

National Elder Fraud Hotline

833-FRAUD-11 or 833-372-8311

U.S. Department of Justice

202-514-2000 or 800-877-8339 (TTY/toll-free)

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