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Elder Abuse: Identify Signs & Symptoms


Elder abuse can take many forms:


Physical - inflicting pain or injury through slapping, hitting, bruising or restraining. Physical abuse can also be inflicted through medication tampering by giving too much or with holding medication.

Sexual - any non-consensual sexual contact, whether comprehended or not.

Emotional - inflicting mental anguish or distress through verbal or non-verbal acts such as threatening, intimidating, or humiliating.

Neglect - failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, healthcare or protection.

Fianancial - illegal use, misuse or concealment of funds, property, assets, or benefits for someone else's gain.



Risk factors for elder abuse include:

  • Age: Adults over the age of 80 are more likely to suffer from elder abuse, according to a 2014 medical study from Northwestern University and Rush University researchers.

  • Caregiver: A caregiver who lives with the elder, depends on them for financial support, abuses drugs, or has a criminal background may be more likely to commit abuse.

  • Gender: The 2014 Chicago study found that women were more likely to suffer from elder abuse. Women may also suffer from more severe types of abuse over longer periods of time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

  • Health: This includes poor physical health and mental health issues such as dementia. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), nearly 50% of those with dementia suffer from elder abuse and neglect.

  • Isolation: According to a 2015 report from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), nearly 13 million older people in the U.S. lived alone. Elders who live by themselves or who are withdrawn may be at risk of abuse, according to the NCOA.

Signs of Elder Abuse by Type


The signs of elder abuse can vary with each case, and some seniors may fall victim to more than one type of abuse.

Since any type of elder abuse can affect a parent, grandparent, or other relatives, it is important to know the warning signs for each type.

Physical Signs of Elder Abuse

In some ways, physical abuse is the most obvious type of elder abuse.

Common physical signs of elder abuse include:

  • Broken bones

  • Bruises or welts

  • Burns

  • Cuts and scrapes

  • Head injuries and concussions

  • Pressure marks or sores

Loved ones should regularly check up on their older family members and use their best judgment in cases of physical injury. Sometimes, caregivers or nursing home staff members may claim that something else caused the injuries to cover up the abuse.

For example, in 2018, a Colorado woman was admitted to a hospital for deep cuts, bruises, and broken bones in her hand. The nursing home initially claimed the woman had scratched herself with a coat hanger.

It later came to light that a staff member — who was a convicted felon — had beaten the woman and another resident. The staff member was sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

While it may not leave physical scars, emotional abuse can be just as damaging to an older relative’s health. Emotional abuse can include screaming, threatening, or instilling fear in an elderly loved one.

Signs of emotional elder abuse include:

  • Being hesitant to talk freely

  • Isolating or withdrawing from others

  • Making up implausible stories about how an injury occurred

  • Suffering from anxiety, anger, depression, or fear

If the elder’s happiness and overall mood decrease in a concerning way, emotional abuse could be the cause.

Signs of Financial Abuse

Unlike the other types of abuse, financial abuse can go unnoticed because the senior’s physical and emotional health won’t be directly affected. Yet financial abuse can leave elders unable to afford even the most basic health care needs.

Common signs of financial abuse include:

  • Large sums of money missing from bank statements

  • The senior cannot access their financial records

  • The elder provides gifts or monetary reimbursement in exchange for companionship

  • Strange or unexplained transactions

A trusted financial expert or family member should monitor the elderly person’s accounts and ask about any concerning transactions, if possible. If the senior cannot explain the loss of funds, they may be a victim of financial abuse.


While any older person can suffer from elder abuse, some run a greater risk of abuse or neglect than others.

Risk factors for elder abuse include:

  • Age: Adults over the age of 80 are more likely to suffer from elder abuse, according to a 2014 medical study from Northwestern University and Rush University researchers.

  • Caregiver: A caregiver who lives with the elder, depends on them for financial support, abuses drugs, or has a criminal background may be more likely to commit abuse.

  • Gender: The 2014 Chicago study found that women were more likely to suffer from elder abuse. Women may also suffer from more severe types of abuse over longer periods of time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

  • Health: This includes poor physical health and mental health issues such as dementia. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), nearly 50% of those with dementia suffer from elder abuse and neglect.

  • Isolation: According to a 2015 report from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), nearly 13 million older people in the U.S. lived alone. Elders who live by themselves or who are withdrawn may be at risk of abuse, according to the NCOA.


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