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Recognizing and Reporting Elder Abuse

Depressed elderly woman.
As a health care professional that works closely with seniors, you are in a position to prevent or recognize and report situations in which a senior has fallen victim to abuse.

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Older adults deserve to age with dignity, respect, and as much independence as possible. But factors such as isolation or decline in physical and mental health can put seniors in a naturally vulnerable position. They must rely on others to eat, bathe, dress, manage their finances, or simply turn over in bed. Unfortunately, a senior’s vulnerability can lead to elder abuse—a devastating situation in which the actions or inactions of caregivers and other trusted individuals can lead to the harm of a senior.

Research indicates that more than one in 10 seniors may experience some type of elder abuse, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, and many of those cases go unreported.

As a health care professional that works closely with seniors, you are in a position to prevent or recognize and report situations in which a senior has fallen victim to abuse.

Types and Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

The following, from the National Center on Elder Abuse, details the five main forms of elder abuse and the warning signs that may indicate a senior is in danger.

Physical Abuse – Use of force to threaten or physically injure a vulnerable elder. If you notice warning signs such as slap marks, unexplained bruises, or certain types of burns and blisters, question the senior as to how he or she got them.

Sexual Abuse – Sexual contact that is forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced upon a vulnerable elder, including anyone who is unable to grant consent. Warning signs could include bruises around the breasts or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.

Emotional Abuse – Verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, or belittling acts that cause or could cause mental anguish, pain, or distress to a senior. Withdrawal from normal activities, unexplained changes in alertness, or other unusual behavioral changes may indicate emotional abuse.

Exploitation – Theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and use of undue influence as a lever to gain control over an older person’s money or property. Sudden changes in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as “loans” or “gifts,” and loss of property could all indicate exploitation.

Neglect – A caregiver’s failure or refusal to provide for a vulnerable elder’s safety, physical, or emotional needs. Warning signs include pressure ulcers (bed sores), filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration.

What to Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse

If you see any warning signs that lead you to suspect mistreatment, report it to the local adult protective services agency or law enforcement. A professional will investigate the situation and may ask you questions, but know that you are not required to prove that abuse has taken place. If the problem persists after the investigation, continue to report anything you witness that violates a senior’s rights.

You can also play an important role in the prevention of elder abuse. Keeping close tabs on the older adults you care for, especially those that are isolated, and encouraging communication about any problems they might be having could go a long way to ensure their safety.

At Home Instead, we take elder abuse as seriously as you do. We train our CAREGivers to watch for abuse signs and put safeguards in place to ensure our clients receive the highest quality of care. If you have any questions or if we can help you prevent elder abuse in any way, please contact your local Home Instead office today.

For more information about preventing, recognizing and reporting elder abuse, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse at

(Source: 2010 NCEA Fact Sheet: Why Should I Care About Elder Abuse?)

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Last revised: October 19, 2011

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