How to recognize the signs of elder abuse

June 14, 2017

Elder abuse has many names. Some refer to victims as “vulnerable older adults.” Others might focus on domestic “abuse in later life.” Regardless of the phrase you use, each identifies older adults who are especially at-risk of being a victim of abuse, neglect, exploitation, or financial crimes.

What makes someone vulnerable?

Oftentimes, the phrase “vulnerable older adult” refers to someone with a physical, cognitive, or emotional challenge that makes them unable to provide for their basic needs – and unable to protect themselves from harm. They might live in a hospital or residential facility, or they might receive services at home. Age or disability alone do not necessitate vulnerability, though both of those factors may make someone more susceptible to abuse.

How common is elder abuse?

Research estimates that about 1 in 10 older adults is a victim of abuse, neglect, and/or financial exploitation. The majority of perpetrators are family members or friends and other trusted individuals.

There are many different kinds of abuse. Some include:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Financial Exploitation
  • Financial Scams

Most of this happens in homes. Additionally, victims may also suffer from multiple kinds of harm. For instance, they might be neglected by a caregiver who is also emotionally abusing them.

Unfortunately, like many other types of abuse, elder abuse often goes unreported. Victim’s might feel embarrassment or fear a loss of independence. They might worry about getting a family member in trouble, or have an emotional and psychological dependence on the perpetrator. Oftentimes, they might not even know it is happening.

That’s where neighbors, family members, friends, and other members of the community can step in.

What are some warning signs of elder abuse?

A victim might:

  1. Show fear of their caregiver, yet resist leaving the caregiver’s presence
  2. Withdraw or no longer speak
  3. Express extreme agitation or panic
  4. “Explain away” signs of harm or exploitation
  5. Lack basic hygiene, adequate food, clean clothing, or amenities they could afford (and need for their health or safety)
  6. Have signed property transfers (like Power of Attorney or will) when they are unable to comprehend the transaction
  7. Show signs of physical abuse like unexplained fractures, bruises, sores, or burns

For more information on elder abuse and warning signs, take a look at the University of California’s Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse & Neglect, “Red Flags of Abuse” here. Available in multiple languages, the PDF outlines signs of physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

To report elder abuse, contact Adult Protective Services. Local contacts are:

  • Washington,DC: 202-541-3950.
  • Montgomery County, MD: 240-777-3000
  • Prince George’s County, MD: 301-909-2000
  • Alexandria, VA: 703-746-5778
  • Arlington County, VA: 703-228-1700
  • Fairfax County, VA: 703-324-7450

By Rosie Aquila

Rosie Aquila is Iona’s Communications and Marketing Manager. In her role, Rosie creates content for Iona’s website, blog, social media, email, and newsletter. A graduate of Kenyon College, Rosie joined Iona’s team in 2014. 

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