Elder Abuse: How to Identify and Prevent

In May of 2020, a 20-year-old man was caught on video brutally beating a 75-year-old man at the Westwood Rehabilitation Nursing Center in Detroit, Michigan. The suspect, who was also a patient at the time, was shown repeatedly punching and cussing at the victim. Although no staff members were involved in this incident, it raises concern that the staff was unaware of the incident until they saw the video.

In June of 2017, Janet Yu discovered that her 90-year-old mother was a victim of financial abuse by her financial planner at Royal Mutual Funds Inc., an RBC subsidiary and a mutual funds dealer. The unauthorized transfer of funds resulted in over $120,000. These unauthorized transfers supposedly went unnoticed because they were processed using Yu’s client card number and the assigned online banking password.

What is Elder Abuse?

The above are only two examples of elder abuse, a growing problem in today’s society that can cost seniors their security, dignity, and even their lives in extreme cases. Elder abuse can include financial abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. It is important to understand that abuse can occur anywhere, including in the home or a senior living facility. Often, abusers are someone that a person trusts, such as family members, friends, or caregivers. Sixty percent of elder abusers are family members, while 24.3% of elder abusers are senior living facility caregivers.

How Prevalent is Elder Abuse?

Each year, up to five million Americans fall victim to elder abuse. While abuse can impact anyone over the age of 60, older women are at a higher risk of becoming victims of neglect and financial abuse. In contrast, older men are at a higher risk of becoming a victim of physical abuse. When it comes to the financial abuse of elders, the loss accounts for more than $36.5 billion each year.

Types of Elder Abuse

  • Physical Abuse
    • Physical pain is inflicted upon someone by hitting, pushing, or restraining them.
    • Accounts for 2.6% of reported elder abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
    • Emotional pain can be caused by an abuser saying hurtful things, yelling, or threatening a victim.
    • Accounts for 11.6% of reported elder abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
    • An abuser forces a victim to watch or be involved in sexual acts involuntarily
    • Accounts for 0.9% of reported elder abuse
  • Financial Abuse
    • Money or belongings are stolen by using a person’s credit card without permission, taking a person’s social security or retirement benefits, forging checks, or changing the name on legal documents to gain access to a person’s money (bank account, title of home, life insurance policy, etc.)
    • Accounts for 6.8% of reported elder abuse
  • Neglect
    • Neglect is when a friend, family member, or caregiver ignores an elder’s needs, including social interaction, physical and emotional needs, or withholding necessities such as food, water, medications, etc.
    • Accounts for 4.2% of reported elder abuse

How to Detect Elder Abuse

Portrait of elder woman experiencing depressionIt is estimated that one in ten people aged 60 or older have been victims of abuse, but only one in twenty-four cases of elder abuse are reported. This being said, learning the signs of elder abuse is the first step in helping victims. A person that has experienced abuse often will display one or more of the following signs:

  • Unengaged from previously enjoyable activities
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Easily agitated
  • Display trauma signs (fidgeting, rocking back and forth, stuttering, avoiding eye contact, etc.)
  • Having unexplained cuts, scars, bruising, etc.
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Distances themselves from loved ones
  • Unsafe living conditions
  • Show signs of being off of their medication
  • Unpaid bills

How to Help a Victim of Elder Abuse

older woman cryingLike most abuse victims, many seniors who are being abused are too ashamed to tell someone about it or ask for help. If you notice someone showing any of the previously stated signs of abuse, try talking to the person one-on-one about these signs to better understand their situation. Consider taking them to an adult protective services agency nearby. To find a local agency, visit the Eldercare Locator website. To learn more about how to help a victim of elder abuse or report abuse, see The Administration for Community Living has a National Center on Elder Abuse website.

How to Prevent Elder Abuse

To prevent elder abuse before it happens, some steps include:

  • Educate yourself and others about how to recognize elder abuse.
  • Check-in often on seniors that have few friends and family members.
  • Research the signs of elder abuse and how they differ from the normal aging process.
  • Listen to older adults to understand their challenges and provide support.
  • Know the policies of senior living facilities to better understand a patient’s rights.
  • Find out if a facility has been accused of elder abuse in the past.