How to Identify Abuse in Senior Care

Key Takeaways

  • Top signs of elder abuse include unexplained injuries, lack in personal care, and behavioral changes.
  • Signs of elder abuse differ by type of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and neglect.
  • Abusive caregivers may exhibit hostility, provide inconsistent injury explanations, and behave inappropriately.
  • You can help prevent abuse by knowing the signs to look for, checking on your loved one often, and reporting any incidents of mistreatment by staff or caregivers.
  • Organizations like The National Center on Elder Abuse support abused seniors and their families.

If you have a loved one or family member who is currently in senior care, it is essential that you know how to identify abuse or neglect.

Common signs of elder abuse can be physical injuries, isolating behavior, and unexplainable weight loss. Other signs may be difficult to spot and can depend on the specific type of abuse.

Read on to learn more about how you can identify abuse in senior care and how to get help for your senior loved one if they have experienced abuse.

Top Signs of Elder Abuse

In order to prevent elder abuse and protect loved ones who are living in senior care facilities, you need to be able to recognize the signs of elder abuse.

Top signs of elder abuse include:

  • Frequent and unexplainable injuries, such as broken bones or bruises
  • A living environment that is dirty, unsanitary, or hazardous and unsafe
  • An appearance that is messy, unkempt, and unhygienic
  • Seeming depressed, anxious, withdrawn, or isolated
  • Missing necessary medical equipment, such as eyeglasses or hearing aids

When elder abuse occurs, the abuser can be a healthcare provider, caregiver, family member, friend, or even another resident at their long-term care facility.

If anything about your loved one’s care is concerning to you, seek help as soon as possible.

Warnings Signs of Different Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse comes in many forms, and while all types can share certain signs and symptoms, there are also signs that are specific to the type of abuse.

Signs of Physical Abuse

Physical abuse may be one of the easiest types of elder abuse to recognize, because it often results in physical injuries or impairment.

Signs of physical abuse in elders include:

  • Bedsores or pressure sores
  • Bruises, cuts, burns, or broken bones, especially if they cannot be explained
  • Marks or welts around arms or legs that indicate the senior was forcefully restrained
  • The senior appears to be in pain, or unable to walk or move properly
  • Unexplained hair loss
  • Broken or missing teeth

Physical signs of abuse are not always obvious, however, and may present themselves in ways that warrant a closer look.

For example, a senior who has a broken bone may favor an arm or leg, appear as if they are in extreme pain even if they say they are not, or hold their arm or limb at odd angles.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be one of the most difficult types of abuse to recognize in seniors, because the signs are not outwardly visible in the same ways as physical abuse.

Signs of emotional abuse in elders include:

  • Appearing nervous, tense, or scared around their caregiver
  • Feeling depressed or hopeless
  • Being withdrawn or isolating themselves
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Seeming as though they are afraid to tell you something

Emotional abuse can build up over time, and can be especially hurtful when the caregiver is also a loved one or family member the elder is close to.

Seniors who are experiencing this type of abuse or psychological abuse may also be hesitant to talk about it because they have low self-esteem or self-worth in this state.

Signs of Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is one of the most common types of abuse that occurs against seniors, as seniors may be particularly vulnerable in this area of their life.

Signs of financial abuse in elders include:

  • Drastic changes in spending habits
  • Alterations to trusts or wills
  • Forgeries on financial or legal documents
  • Missing property or valuables
  • New or sudden relationships that seem exploitative in nature
  • A caregiver using an elderly person’s bank account or credit cards without their permission

Spotting financial abuse requires keeping a close eye on your loved one’s finances and legal documents, which may not be easy to do.

This is especially true if it seems like the caregiver is trying to hide things or keep information from you, which can be another sign of financial abuse.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is not uncommon between caregivers and older adults in assisted living or nursing homes, but possibly uder-reported as seniors may be embarrassed or scared to report this kind of abuse.

Signs of sexual abuse in elders include:

  • Unexplainable STDs
  • Trouble walking or sitting
  • Pelvic injuries or pelvic pain
  • Bloody, stained, or ripped underwear
  • Bleeding or bruising in or around the genitals

This type of abuse can leave seniors with severe physical and emotional trauma.

In addition to knowing the physical signs of sexual abuse, it can be helpful to also know how to talk to someone in this situation and the right questions to ask.

Signs of Elder Neglect

Elder neglect can be just as dangerous as elder abuse, even if the caregiver is not directly hurting the elder.

Signs of elder neglect include:

  • Weight loss or malnutrition
  • Appearing dirty and without basic hygienic care
  • Unkempt and unsanitary living conditions or clothing
  • Untreated wounds or illnesses
  • Missing medication or wrong amounts of medication given
  • Missing or inadequate medical equipment

Some of the signs of neglect may be difficult to notice and may be confused with self-neglect on the part of the senior.

Further, the signs of neglect are often both physical and mental, so it is important to be on the lookout for both.

5 Ways to Spot Abusive Senior Caregivers

If you have a loved one who is currently in senior care, it’s important to be aware of the signs of an abusive caregiver.

1. Watch the Caregiver’s Demeanor Toward the Senior

Watch for how the caregiver treats the senior in general — if they are indifferent, rude, hostile, or mean in any way to the senior, this could be a definite sign of abuse.

On the other hand, if the caregiver talks about the senior as if they are a burden or inconvenience, this could also be a sign of an abusive caregiver.

2. Pay Attention to How The Caregiver Talks to the Senior

Watch out for signs that the caregiver is verbally abusing the senior, which are not always as easy to spot as the signs of physical abuse.

Also, pay attention to any language the caregiver uses that is inappropriate or sexual, as this could be signs of sexual abuse.

3. Ask the Caregiver for Explanations

Another way to tell if a caregiver is being abusive or negligent is if they offer conflicting explanations for physical injuries or behaviors in the senior.

Look out for explanations that are either different from what the senior has told you or which change when you ask about it on different occasions.

4. Address Differences in Your Elderly Loved One’s Behavior

You are one of the people who knows your loved one best, so be on the lookout for any changes in their behavior, and address these changes with their caregiver.

One difference in behavior that should be concerning is if your elderly loved one is acting isolated or antisocial, especially if they had previously spent a lot of time with loved ones and family.

5. Report Inappropriate or Unacceptable Caregiver Behavior

Inappropriate or unacceptable caregiver behavior should always be reported, especially if the elder is in danger.

This is not always easy to do, as a person’s caregiver is oftentimes one of their family members or someone close to them.

What Are The Less Common Signs of Abuse in Senior Care?

Not all the signs of abuse in senior care are obvious or common, but they can be just as important to look out for in a loved one.

Less common signs of abuse in senior care include:

  • An elder who is scared or uncomfortable making eye contact with their caregiver
  • An elder who appears to be more or less sedated than they are supposed to be
  • Sudden onset of new health problems or mental illness
  • Bite marks and scratches
  • Confusion, which can be mistaken for dementia symptoms
  • Unpaid bills, despite being financially secure and stable
  • ATM activity while the senior is homebound or who has never used an ATM

Some of the warning signs of abuse may be difficult to identify because they can easily be confused with symptoms of dementia or other illness. Don’t discount your elderly loved one’s condition without investigating the situation first.

Who Is Most at Risk for Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse can happen to anyone. However, some seniors and their caregivers are more likely than others to find themselves in this situation.

Risk factors for elder abuse include:

  • Seniors in poor physical or mental health
  • Elders with dementia or memory issues
  • Caregivers who are depressed or burned out
  • Caregivers who have not been properly screened or background checked
  • Caregivers who lack training
  • Elders and caregivers who share a living space
  • Elders who are financially, physically, or emotionally dependent on their caregiver

Best Ways to Prevent Elder Abuse

Fortunately, elder abuse can be prevented by knowing what to look out for and keeping in close contact with your loved one or family member.

1. Visit Your Elderly Loved One Often

You should visit your loved one often to look for signs of abuse, ask them about their care, and meet with their caregivers to discuss any concerns you have.

This is not always possible if you do not live close to your loved one, but do your best to check in with them often and keep in contact with family members nearby.

2. Know the Signs of Elder Abuse

Be familiar with the signs of elder abuse so you know what to look out for and the types of questions you should ask your loved one.

Many of the signs of elder abuse are difficult to spot, but can be easier to detect if you know what you are looking for.

3. Report Any Elder Mistreatment Right Away

Report any suspected abuse or elder mistreatment that you notice right away, so the senior can be removed from the situation and provided with medical care.

This is also important to do because the caregiver may be abusing other seniors in addition to your loved one.

To report a caregiver for abuse you can:

  • Call 911 if the elder is in a situation that is life-threatening.
  • Report the caregiver to a social worker or a long-term care ombudsman.
  • Report the caregiver to their supervisor or agency.
  • Report the caregiver to Adult Protective Services.
  • Call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for further information and additional local resources.

4. Assess Senior Care Facilities for Safety, Staff Experience, and Training

It is always important to assess senior care facilities in advance, especially if the senior you are seeking a home for has already experienced abuse in another facility.

Abuse or neglect in senior care can often be avoided by choosing facilities that are of high quality and have features that showcase a high standard of care.

Features of high-quality care in a senior care facility include:

  • Licensing and certification
  • Accreditation from national organizations like The Joint Commission
  • Positive reviews and testimonials
  • High ratings on Google and social media
  • Low staff-to-patient ratio

Resources for Seniors Who Have Experienced Abuse

Both seniors and their loved ones have support resources available to them after experiencing abuse.

Resources for seniors and their loved ones who have experienced abuse include:

  • The National Center on Elder Abuse — Established in 1988, this organization works to prevent elder abuse and also serves as a national resource center for older adult Americans.
  • Adult Protective Services — APS agencies are available in every state to investigate incidents of suspected elder abuse or neglect and to assist and protect any individuals who are being harmed.
  • Eldercare Locator — This convenient service helps elders to connect to a number of valuable local services, including those for housing, support services, and elder rights.
  • Elder Justice Initiative — This program run by the U.S. Department of Justice provides support to older victims and also works to raise awareness of the challenges faced by elders and their families.

Find High-Quality Senior Living Facilities

No one should have to suffer elder abuse or worry that their loved one is being abused, which is why it’s important to find a high-quality senior living home.

To find safe, comfortable, and top-quality senior living facilities in your area, contact Aging With Care or browse our comprehensive directory of senior care homes.

We can help you find the right home for your loved one — one that makes them feel secure and where they do not have to live in fear of abuse or neglect.

Reach out to us now to learn more about senior living options near you.

Written by: Aging with Care Editorial Staff

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