6 Indicators of Elder Abuse

Every year an estimated 5 million older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. It occurs in every demographic and can happen to anyone, yet it is estimated that only about one in five of those crimes are ever discovered. Many victims are people who are older, frail, and vulnerable; people who are dependent on others to meet their most basic needs. Elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to financial abuse and exploitation. 

Every state in the US has passed some form of elder abuse prevention law. Laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one state to another but are likely to include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, exploitation, emotional abuse, abandonment, and/or self-neglect. Overall, elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act that seriously risks, or causes harm to, a vulnerable adult.

“World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was launched on June 15, 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations.  The purpose of WEAAD is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect. In addition, WEAAD is in support of the United Nations International Plan of Action acknowledging the significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue. WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.”

Not all instances of elder abuse begin with malicious intent. A caregiver who lacks training, takes on too many responsibilities, endures poor work conditions, or is simply unsuited to caregiving, can experience stress at levels that lead to elder abuse. These circumstances may exist regardless of how experienced the caregiver may be. Additionally, some elders are more vulnerable than others or more likely to push beyond their caregivers’ capabilities. These factors don’t excuse abuse, but they do create an atmosphere of greater risk:

  • More intense illness or dementia
  • Social isolation of elder and caregiver
  • A history of abuse or domestic violence in the home
  • The elder’s own tendency toward verbal or physical aggression

Waiting for the elder to come forward in these situations is often fruitless, as the suffering is generally silent. However, if you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, it may be worth questioning the source. While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some tell-tale signs that there could be a problem are:

  • Bruises, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.

For more information on Elder Abuse visit the National Center on Elder Abuse here and the Administration for Community Living here

Rebecca Schein Gideon Y. Schein,
Rebecca R. Eddy
Gideon Y. Schein

Eddy & Schein
212. 987.1427


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