elderabuseElder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. The specificity of laws varies from state to state, but broadly defined, abuse may be:
  • Physical Abuse - Inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on an at-risk elder, or depriving them of a basic need
    • Indicators of Physical Abuse
      • Repeated visits to the emergency room
      • Bruises or injuries in various stages of healing
      • Unconvincing explanations of injuries
      • Elder is isolated from family and medical care
  • Emotional Abuse – Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or non-verbal acts
    • Indicators of Emotional Abuse
      • Depressed or withdrawn behavior
      • Over-compliant or hyper-vigilant
      • Seeming detached
      • Feelings of shame and guilt
      • Little enthusiasm
  • Sexual Abuse – Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind
    • Indicators of Sexual Abuse
      • Difficulty in walking, sitting, or standing
      • Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
      • Bruises, pain, bleeding, or injuries to the genitals, breasts, or anal areas
      • Sexually transmitted diseases
      • Scared or timid behavior
      • Depressed or withdrawn behavior
      • Sudden changes in personality
      • Sudden avoidance or fear of people
      • Elder does not want to be touched
      • Resistance to certain caregiving tasks
  • Caretaker Neglect – Caretaker fails to make sure the elder has adequate food, clothing, shelter, psychological care, physical care, medical care, or supervision or the caretaker does not provide these things in a timely manner or with the same degree of care that a reasonable person in the same situation would use
    • Indicators of Caretaker Neglect
      • Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
      • Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores
      • Unsanitary living conditions: dirt, bugs, soiled bedding
      • Being left in dirty, soiled clothing
      • Unsafe living conditions (no heat or running water, faulty electrical wiring, other fire hazards)
      • Being left alone when unable to self care or protect
      • Failure to provide food and/or water
      • Improper use of medications in order to “control” the elder
      • Lack of medical aids (glasses, walker or cane, teeth or dentures, hearing aids, medications)
  • Exploitation – Illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of an at-risk elder. Harassing, intimidating, or using undue influence to get the elder to do something against their will
    • Indicators of Exploitation
      • Deviations in financial habits
      • Numerous unpaid bills
      • Checks made to cash
      • Disparity between lifestyle and assets
      • Personal belongings missing

Tragically, sometimes elders neglect their own care, which can lead to illness or injury. Self-neglect occurs when an at-risk elder endangers their health, safety, welfare, or life by not getting the services they need to meet their basic needs, including:

  • Hoarding
  • Failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness
  • Leaving a burning stove unattended 
  • Poor hygiene
  • Not wearing suitable clothing for the weather
  • Confusion
  • Inability to attend to housekeeping
  • Dehydration 

Oftentimes, the problem is paired with declining health, isolation, Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or drug and alcohol dependency. 

In some of these cases, elders will be connected to supports in the community that can allow them to continue living on their own. Some conditions like depression and malnutrition may be successfully treated through medical intervention. If the problems are severe enough, a guardian may be appointed through Adult Protective Services at the Department of Human/Social Services.