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Senior Abuse: What Signs to Look For

by Madhuri Reddy | Jun 15, 2016 | eldercare | 0 Comments


1 in 10 seniors are abused – so chances are you as a caregiver have met at least one.

As a Geriatrician (an MD that has special training in the care of people over the age of 65 years), senior abuse is something that I am sorry to say I have seen more than once. The victims are by definition a vulnerable population, who in some cases lack decision-making ability due to Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and/or have put their trust in someone who takes advantage.

In children, we may be more on alert to the signs of abuse – bruises that shouldn’t be there, strange behavior – but when we see the same in a senior, we are more likely to think of medical issues – they probably fell, they are just confused. Seniors with Alzheimer’s or other dementia are at the highest risk of being abused. It important for a caregiver to have a high degree of suspicion when you see certain important signs, so you can call the proper authorities in a timely way.

As a caregiver, you can help a vulnerable person just by knowing what to look for. As they say – if you see something, say something. Call your state's Elder Abuse Hotline immediately.

Do you know exactly what Senior Abuse (also called Elder Abuse) looks like? What should you, as a family member, friend or caregiver be on the lookout for?

There have been numerous attempts to define senior abuse, which has sadly been documented for thousands of years. Over the last 10 years, though, there have been several improvements in medical research on senior abuse that have taught the medical community quite a lot. For example, financial exploitation has been noted recently to be practically an epidemic in our society.

In long-term care (otherwise known as nursing homes), studies have shown abuse of older residents by other residents. In fact, this is more common than physical abuse by the nursing home staff caregivers.


There are 5 main types of senior abuse (elder abuse):

  1. Physical abuse – carried out with the intention to cause bodily injury. The signs a caregiver should look out for: You might notice bruises, use of restraints, burns, multiple injuries in various stages of healing.
  2. Psychological or verbal abuse – carried out with the intention of causing emotional injury. The signs a caregiver should look out for: You might notice  a caregiver/family member yelling, threatening or signs of intimidation such as preventing the older person from seeing someone they wish to see.
  3. Sexual abuse – nonconsensual sexual contact. Commonly, a resident in a long-term care facility with dementia may in fact assault another resident who may or not have dementia. The signs a caregiver should look out for: This is hard to notice unless you care or know the person intimately, but signs of sexual abuse are similar in older adults as they are in younger adults.
  4. Financial exploitation – misappropriation of an older adult’s property or money. The signs a caregiver should look out for: You may notice weight loss without a medical cause, firing of home care by the abuser, inability to pay for medicine.
  5. Neglect – the failure of a caregiver to meet the dependent older adult’s needs. The signs a caregiver should look out for: You may notice malnutrition, poor hygiene, pressure ulcers, confusion. Neglect may be intentional or unintentional.

Of course, sometimes it is the primary caregiver themselves who are abusing a senior. If you are a caregiver feeling overwhelmed, you need help . Providing care for a senior, particularly one that has Alzheimer’s or other dementia, is immensely difficult and you can’t do it alone. Call someone and tell them you need help - for example, your doctor, or the senior’s doctor. You can also check the Alzheimer’s Association and AARP websites for other caregiver resources and supports. Most importantly, do not suffer it alone. It is important to know that as a concerned caregiver, you play an important role in identifying a senior who is or has been abused. So keep a look out for the signs.



Lachs MS, Pillemer KA; Elder Abuse, N Engl J Med, 373;20 November 12, 2015

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Madhuri Reddy

Dr. Reddy is a specialist in Internal Medicine & Geriatric Medicine, and holds appointments at Harvard Medical School & Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, MA. For years she has seen first hand the struggles that families and caregivers go through while caring for older adults.

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