Signs and Symptoms of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is the intentional harm or neglect of older adults. Elder abuse can be difficult to detect, and victims may be too embarrassed to report abuse, while conditions such as dementia can make them unable to do so. It’s critical to know the signs of abuse to keep your loved ones safe. If a family member has been the victim of elder physical or sexual abuse, Sokolove Law may be able to help you recover compensation.

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How to Identify Elder Abuse

Elder abuse occurs when adults over the age of 60 are abused, neglected, or exploited, often in a nursing home or by in-home care staff. The mistreatment of older adults can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, or cultural background, which is why it’s crucial to remain vigilant and to know the signs of elder abuse, so you recognize it when you see it.

Did You Know?

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), about 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced elder abuse, but only 1 in 24 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.

Elder abuse can have life-threatening consequences, but many indicators of abuse can be difficult to detect. Physical signs of abuse, such as bruises and bedsores, may be mistaken for natural results of aging. Additionally, victims of elder abuse often are either unable or too embarrassed to report the abuse.

An elder abuse lawyer can help you determine if your loved one has been a victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect that led to injury. Elder abuse does not stop on its own — it must be addressed quickly to prevent suffering, or even death, among our most vulnerable population.

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If an older member of your family was physically or sexually abused, you may be able to pursue compensation. Learn more about your legal options today.

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Warning Signs of Elder Abuse or Neglect

Elder abuse can take the form of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse; financial exploitation; or neglect. Knowing the warning signs for each type of abuse — and taking reports of abuse seriously — will help you keep your loved ones safe.

Signs of Physical Abuse in Elderly Populations

Physical elder abuse occurs when an older individual suffers from pain, injury, distress, or even death at the hands of another person’s intentional use of force.

Physical elder abuse can include acts of violence, such as striking (with or without an object), hitting, slapping, beating, pushing, shaking, kicking, pinching, and burning. The use of physical restraints and force-feeding are also examples of physical elder abuse.

Signs of the physical abuse of elderly adults include:

  • Broken bones
  • Broken eyeglasses or other signs of physical punishment
  • Caregiver who refuses to let visitors be alone with the older person
  • Internal injuries or bleeding
  • Lab results that show excessive or inadequate medication
  • Open wounds or untreated injuries
  • Skull fracture
  • Sprains or dislocations
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Unexplained bruises, black eyes, or lacerations

Sadly, a 13-year study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that physical abuse in elderly populations puts them at twice the risk of dying prematurely compared to those who don’t experience abuse. Elder physical abuse is also known to cause permanent psychological damage, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

If your loved one has suffered injury or wrongful death as the result of physical elder abuse, Sokolove Law may be able to help you hold their abusers accountable. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more.

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Elderly Populations

Elder sexual abuse includes any unwanted form of sexual contact. It can be committed by anyone — staff, other residents, or even criminals who enter the premises illegally.

Sexual abuse in elderly populations is an appalling reality that often goes unreported. This is because the victims may be ashamed or physically unable to talk about it, or those who can stop the abuse may refuse to believe it is happening.

Signs of sexual abuse in elderly populations include:

  • Attitude changes when the abuser is near, such as becoming afraid or withdrawn
  • Blood found on sheets, linens, or clothing
  • Bruises around the genital area or breasts
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted infections
  • Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding

Any sexual contact with a person who is not able to give consent is considered sexual abuse. Since predators prey on the most vulnerable of victims, it is critical to monitor your loved one for signs of sexual abuse of the elderly, especially if they have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

Signs of Neglect in Elderly Populations

Neglect in elderly populations occurs when the person’s needs are not tended to or met. This can include neglecting their physical needs, such as withholding food, water, medications, or medical care. It can also include ignoring their social or emotional needs.

Signs of neglect in elderly populations include:

  • Dehydration
  • Hazardous or unsanitary living conditions
  • Malnutrition that causes weight loss
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Preventable infection
  • Untreated bedsores or other health problems

Signs of Psychological Abuse in Elderly Populations

Psychological abuse, also called emotional abuse, is the infliction of distress, anguish, or pain through verbal or nonverbal actions. It may include insults, intimidation, isolation, threats, the silent treatment, harassment, or humiliation.

Signs of the psychological abuse of elderly adults include:

  • Becoming anxious or depressed
  • Becoming withdrawn, non-communicative, or non-responsive
  • Being emotionally upset or agitated
  • Demonstrating unusual behavior, such as sucking or rocking
  • Denial of required assistive devices, such as hearing aids
  • Personality changes, such as apologizing excessively
  • Showing a change in sleeping or eating habits

Psychological elder abuse can be difficult to detect. It is especially important to pay close attention because this form of elder abuse can lead to severe mental anguish if it is not stopped.

Signs of Financial Abuse in Elderly Populations

Financial abuse in elderly populations is the unlawful use of funds, assets, property, or Social Security benefits. It can include cashing checks without permission, forgery, and coercing an elderly person to sign a contract or will. It also includes improperly using power of attorney.

Signs of the financial abuse of elderly people include:

  • Abrupt or unexplained changes in wills or financial documents
  • Added names on a bank signature card
  • Disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
  • Sudden changes in bank accounts, such as large sums of money being withdrawn
  • Sudden transfer of assets to an unexpected relative or friend
  • Unauthorized withdrawals with an ATM card
  • Unpaid bills or inadequate care provided for an elderly person who has the money

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), financial exploitation is one of the most common forms of elder abuse.

Elder Abuse Risk Factors

While exact risk factors for elder abuse are not known, it is thought that certain circumstances in nursing homes and other care facilities increase the likelihood of abuse.

Elder abuse risk factors may include care facilities that have:

  • Inadequate staff training
  • Insufficient background checks
  • High staff turnover rates
  • History of complaints
  • No abuse prevention policy
  • Unsafe environments

Additionally, some data suggest that patients with disruptive behaviors or those with a significant need for assistance are at greater risk of being abused.

Older adults who are more socially isolated, and those with mental impairment — such as Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia — may also be at a higher risk for elder abuse. In fact, according to the NCOA, recent studies show that nearly half of people with dementia have experienced elder abuse or neglect.

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In addition to factors that put victims at greater risk for elder abuse, there are also factors that are believed to increase the likelihood of perpetrators committing abuse.

People who may be more likely to commit elder abuse include those with:

  • Heavy financial or emotional dependence on the elderly adult
  • High levels of stress
  • History of drug or alcohol abuse
  • History of family conflict
  • Lack of social support
  • Mental illness
  • Physical health problems

Understanding the causes of elder abuse can be the biggest defense in preventing or stopping it. No matter what the root causes are, though, elder abuse is reprehensible. It’s also illegal due to the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA), which means victims of elder abuse may be able to take legal action against their abusers.

Contact us for a free, confidential consultation to learn more.

What to Do When You Suspect Elder Abuse

One key thing to remember is that elder abuse will not stop on its own. Vulnerable older adults need someone to help them. Many victims are too ashamed to report mistreatment or are afraid that reporting the abuse will make their situation worse.

When you suspect elder abuse or see signs of elder abuse, you may first try talking with the older adult to find out what is happening directly from them.

Most importantly, get help to file a report with Adult Protective Services (APS). You do not have to prove elder abuse for the agency to investigate suspected abuse.

If someone is in life-threatening or immediate danger, call 911 right away.

For non-urgent cases of elder abuse, you may call any of the following offices:

  • Adult Protective Services (APS): 1-202-370-6292
  • Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116
  • National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA): 1-855-500-3537
  • Your Local Long-Term Care Ombudsman office

Finally, in cases of physical or sexual abuse, you may wish to file a nursing home abuse lawsuit. Nursing home abuse lawsuits are usually handled on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay unless the case is successful.

Successful nursing home lawsuits allow victims to recover financial compensation and to hold nursing homes accountable for causing needless suffering.

Get Help from an Elder Abuse Law Firm

Sokolove Law has over 45 years of experience and has recovered billions of dollars in compensation for victims of wrongdoing.

When you work with our nursing home abuse law firm, you get access to a national network of experienced nursing home lawyers. Each year, we process over 400 individual claims. To date, we have recovered $273 Million for victims of elder physical and sexual abuse.

With each case, we strive to make the process of filing a claim as easy as possible for you, so you can focus on yourself and your family.

Your brave decision to fight back against elder abuse will help others, in addition to obtaining justice for your own loved one. If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, or if you yourself are being victimized, there are alternatives to suffering in silence.

Contact us now for a free and confidential consultation about your legal rights.

Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect FAQs

What constitutes elder abuse and neglect?

Elder abuse is the intentional physical or psychological harm or neglect of older adults.

At what age is it considered elderly abuse?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an older adult is someone aged 60 years or older.

What are the different types of elder abuse?

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) recognizes seven different types of elder abuse:

  1. Physical abuse: Using physical force that may cause bodily harm
  2. Sexual abuse: Engaging in any type of non-consensual sexual contact
  3. Emotional abuse: Inflicting anguish or distress through verbal or non-verbal actions
  4. Financial exploitation: Improperly using funds, property, or assets
  5. Neglect: Failing to fulfill any obligations or duties to an elderly person
  6. Abandonment: The desertion of an elderly person by someone responsible for providing care
  7. Self-neglect: Older adult behaving in a way that threatens their own health or safety

Where does elder abuse happen most?

Elder abuse can happen anywhere, including in the older adult’s home, a relative’s home, an assisted living facility, a nursing home, or any other type of care facility.

Elder abuse often affects those who depend on others for help with everyday activities. Sadly, this is often the case in nursing homes, where elderly people who need this level of care tend to live.

What is passive neglect?

The American Medical Association (AMA) defines neglect as the failure to provide goods and services necessary to avoid harm, including personal care, medications, medical attention, nutrition, and a safe environment.

Passive elder neglect often occurs when a caregiver unintentionally fails to act. The reasons for this failure to act include a lack of information or resources. This is different from active neglect, which is considered intentional.

Medically speaking, there are different definitions for active and passive neglect, but it is important to note that the legal consequences for each are almost always the same.

What is the most common type of elder abuse?

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), financial exploitation is the most commonly self-reported type of elder abuse. According to the NCEA, neglect is the most common type of elder abuse overall.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: September 16, 2021

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