Recognizing Signs of Elder Abuse


Author: Lowell Steiger

Published On: March 1, 2009

The following is an excerpt from a posting on my website entitled Recognizing Signs of Elder Abuse

U.S. Bureau of Justice study in 1998 estimated that as many as 500,000 cases of elder abuse were reported and substantiated in 1996. Further, estimates indicate that over 2 million additional incidents went unreported that same year. One reason that so many incidents were not reported may be that relatives and friends are not always sensitive
to signs of abuse. Frequently, the most reliable indicators of abuse are complaints made by the elder, but the elder may be unable or unwilling to complain. Because most states impose reporting requirements on those who become aware of elder abuse, it is important to recognize the signs. The following are some of the possible signs indicating common forms of elder abuse.

Neglect Indicators

  • Poor hygiene, evidenced by an unkempt appearance and stained or torn clothing
  • Untreated problems, such as abrasions or bedsores
  • Unexplained weight loss, malnutrition or dehydration
  • Unsanitary and unclean living conditions, especially beds
  • Limited staff at nursing facilities

Emotional or Psychological Abuse Indicators

  • The elder is withdrawn and unresponsive, generally unwilling to communicate
  • The elder is visibly upset or agitated
  • Anger or evident fear
  • Unusual or atypical behavior indicating dementia, such as sucking or rocking

 Physical Abuse Indicators

  • Bruises, black eyes, welts or signs of choking or rope burns
  • Suspicious scratches, cuts, pinch marks or cigarette burns
  • Broken bones or skull fractures
  • Radical changes in behavior, such as being withdrawn, disoriented or agitated
  • Refusal of the caregiver to allow visitors

Financial or Material Exploitation Indicators

  • Changes in bank accounts or banking practices; additional signatories on accounts
  • Abrupt changes in a will or estate plan; documents signed without understanding them
  • Disappearance of money and/or valuable possessions
  • Payment for unnecessary services or overcharging for services
  • Failure to pay bills in a timely manner, despite having sufficient resources from which to pay them.

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