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Elder Abuse: How to Spot the Signs

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Elder abuse takes so many different forms it is often overlooked. Emotional, financial, neglect, and even physical abuse towards seniors is rarely ever reported to law enforcement authorities. Unfortunately, they are more common than everyone thinks.

Any action that victimizes a senior whether it is deliberate or caused by caregiving incompetence should be noticed and addressed. It can come from anyone, including family members and strangers. Because they are subject to physical/mental illness, social isolation, and cultural biases, people over 65 may be easier to exploit. As an elderly person’s caregiver or loved one, stay on your toes about possible elder abuse.

Here are the basic types of elder abuse and their typical warning signs:

Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse is any verbal or non-verbal action that lowers a person’s dignity and self-worth. Hurtful words, intimidation, and threats are easily recognizable forms of psychological elder abuse. Less obvious actions include ignoring them, forbidding them from socializing, disrespecting their belongings, and treating them like a child.

Psychological abuse signs may include low self-esteem, withdrawal, insomnia, lack of eye contact, and reluctance to talk about it.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse. Any improper conduct that results in a monetary gain to the abuser and/or loss for the older adult falls under this category. Family members are responsible for most financial abuse cases, although theft from outsiders also occurs.

Indicators of possible financial abuse can include mysterious bank withdrawals, suspicious signatures on documents, unexplained missing belongings, and denial of access to finances or statements. More subtle clues like being unable to pay bills or buy food should also be investigated.

Physical Abuse

Any act of violence or rough handling that causes physical injury, discomfort, or pain is physical elder abuse. Hitting, kicking, pushing, shaking, or pinching an individual, as well as restraining them inappropriately or spitting on them, is considered physical abuse.

Pay close attention to unexplained (or badly explained) injuries, bruises, abrasions, broken or damaged belongings, and signs of over/under medication.


Neglect is failure to meet the basic needs of the older person. This can occur intentionally (deliberately withholding care). Or unintentionally (failing to provide proper care due to lack of knowledge). This includes leaving a person alone in an unsafe place, over/under medicating, disregarding nutrition/hygiene, and abandonment.

To spot neglect, look for bedsores, skin rashes, poor hygiene, hunger, malnutrition or dehydration, or unclean clothing, bedding, or environments.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any sexual behaviour (carried out through force, trickery, threats, or other means) towards someone without their knowledge and consent. Unwanted or inappropriate sexual remarks, suggestions, touching, as well as intercourse fall under the sexual abuse category.

Bruising around the limbs or genital area, unexplained genital or anal infection, difficulty walking or sitting are some signs of sexual abuse.

If you feel an older adult may be a victim of some form of abuse, get help immediately (whether you are sure or not). Call 911, the district attorney’s office, or state organizations such as adult protective services.

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The Giving Care Team is a group of senior and adaptive clothing professionals dedicated to helping the elderly maintain a comfortable and dignified lifestyle with tips and secrets on how to get the most out of life when disability and age fight to stop us at every opportunity. The Giving Care Blog is a resource for seniors, their families and caregivers.

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