Abuse can happen anytime throughout one’s life. To protect and support our elders, the information below explains the ways to recognize elder abuse. Just like other kinds of abuse, elder abuse can take many different forms.
Forms of Elder Abuse
• Physical: Inflicting pain or injury through such actions as slapping, hitting, bruising or restraining. Physical abuse can also be inflicted through medication tampering—giving too much or withholding medication.
• Sexual: Any nonconsensual sexual contact, whether comprehended or not.
• Emotional: Inflicting mental anguish or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts such as threatening, intimidating or humiliating.
• Neglect: Failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, healthcare or protection.
• Financial: Illegal use, misuse or concealment of funds, property, assets or benefits for someone else’s gain.
• Abandonment: Desertion of a vulnerable adult.
Signs of Abuse to Watch For
Because not all seniors are able to communicate incidents of abuse, it’s important that those close to them watch for warning signs. Here are five signs to look for from the Administration for Community Living:
• Unexplained bruises, marks, broken bones or abrasions that could be indicative of physical abuse or any bruises or injuries to the breasts or genitalia
• Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities, sudden change in alertness or unusual depression
• Sudden changes in financial situation
• Poor hygiene, bedsores, unusual weight loss or unattended medical needs
• Belittling, threats or frequent arguments between patient and caregiver
If you suspect an elderly loved one is being abused, report it to authorities. If the threat is immediate, call 911. Otherwise, call your local police department’s nonemergency line or contact your state’s Adult Protective Care Services. Find an APS office in your area.
For an even more comprehensive and printable list of elder abuse signs, see 29 Signs of Elder Abuse. To learn more about domestic violence among seniors, start by reading When Domestic Violence Happens Later in Life or explore the National Clearinghouse for Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), www.ncall.org.
Domestic violence and sexual assault programs are equipped to help victims of abuse, regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs or age. Although there are particular dynamics and barriers faced by older victims, domestic and sexual violence victim advocates can make a difference. Many older victims of abuse may benefit from services offered by programs such as:
• Safety planning,
• individual or group counseling,
• emergency shelter,
• legal advocacy, among others.
These programs can be particularly appropriate for those older victims who do not fit the intake criteria for adult protective services, but who need help in addressing violence and abuse in their lives. Advocates should remember that because of the complexity of some of these cases, collaboration with the aging services network, adult protective services, health care providers, and others is essential.
VAWnet’s special collection Preventing and Responding to Domestic & Sexual Violence in Later Life, focuses specifically on domestic and sexual violence (DV/SV) in later life, highlighting the complexities of older people’s DV/SV experiences and emphasizing the importance of collaborative and multi-pronged approaches to addressing DV/SV in later life.”