Healthy You - Every Day

Elder Abuse: Recognize the Signs

Older adults can endure physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse as well as neglect and abandonment

Elder care

Elder abuse occurs when people ages 60 and older are mistreated by others. This can be by family members, caregivers, friends and even strangers. “Anyone can be a victim of abuse, but it is more likely to happen to those who have dementia or a disability, or who don’t have a strong social network,” says Philip Benyo, MD, primary care physician at LVPG Geriatric and Internal Medicine–Brookhill Plaza.

Types of elder abuse

Abuse doesn’t always look the same in every situation. Different forms of elder abuse include:

  • Physical abuse: Hitting, pushing, slapping, burning or locking in a room
  • Emotional abuse: Yelling, threatening, ignoring or saying hurtful things
  • Neglect: Not attending to one’s basic needs, such as food, clothing and medical care
  • Financial abuse: Stealing money or belongings
  • Sexual abuse: Sexual activity when one is forced or unable to consent
  • Abandonment: Leaving someone alone who needs help

According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 older adults living at home have experienced some kind of elder abuse.

How to spot the signs

Are you worried that a loved one is being abused? Watch for the following signs:

  • Bruises, broken bones, burns or cuts
  • No longer taking part in activities they enjoy
  • Poor hygiene
  • Strained relationships
  • Bedsores
  • Unusual weight loss
  • A sudden change in financial situation
  • Missing dentures, hearing aids or eyeglasses

Protect yourself against abuse

If you’re an older adult, there are some things you can do to keep safe:

  • Stay connected. “Maintain your relationships with friends and family members,” Benyo says. “The less isolated you are, the safer you are.”
  • Plan for the future now. You should have documents such as a living will and power of attorney in place. This will make it more difficult for someone to try to take control of your affairs.
  • Focus on your health. Eat nutritious foods, exercise, get enough sleep and take care of your mental health. “You’ll feel good and be in a better position to advocate for yourself,” Benyo says.
“Anyone can be a victim of abuse, but it is more likely to happen to those who have dementia or a disability, or who don’t have a strong social network.” - Philip Benyo, MD

No matter how many precautions you take, elder abuse is still possible. If it does happen to you, remember that it’s not your fault.

Where to find help

If someone you know is in danger, call 911. If you suspect there is abuse happening, contact your local Adult Protective Services office. In Pennsylvania, that number is 800-490-8505.

Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging connects you to services for older adults and their families, call 800-677-1116 for more information or use the link below. 

You can also learn more about elder abuse from the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) on their website at the link below.

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