One out of every 10 older adults who live at home experience elder abuse. For those over the age of 60, elder abuse is all too common. Abuse can take many forms, and therefore may be difficult to spot. That’s why it’s so important to know the warning signs of elder abuse when you see them, and further, where to go for help.

Elder abuse is a broad definition. It covers the willful or intentional hurt of an older adult through physical, psychological, or financial means, including acts of omission such as willful neglect. The term covers six primary categories of abuse:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Financial Abuse (Exploitation)
  • Neglect

Physical abuse can take the form of any intentional bodily harm from striking, slapping, or other acts of violence. Willful elder neglect and abandonment can also involve physical harm such as withholding or neglecting to provide medications (or medical devices like hearing aids or glasses), or allowing an individual to live without proper hygiene or hygienic assistance. Neglect and abandonment can also do psychological harm through social isolation, loneliness, and depression. Anybody can perpetrate elder abuse, even total strangers. Some of the most common abusers are adult children and family members, comprising 20% and 19% of all cases, respectively.

What Are Some of the Warning Signs of Elder Neglect?

While some signs of elder abuse in a home health care scenario are more easily identified by caretakers (such as injuries or markings from sexual abuse), others can be picked up by anyone. Some of these signs include:

  • Bruises, scratches, burns, or broken bones
  • Sudden, unexpected social or emotional withdrawal
  • Increased tension or fights with a particular individual
  • Poor hygiene or bedsores
  • Physical isolation
  • Missed medications or signs of medical neglect
  • Sudden or unexpected changes in finances

Special attention should be paid towards particularly vulnerable groups of older adults; for example, those with dementia have a higher risk for experiencing elder abuse. Of course, directly witnessing verbal insults, belittling, or threats towards an older adult is evidence of emotional abuse, which warrants a report. However, it’s important to remember: you do not need concrete proof of abuse to file a report. Warning signs like these can be all you need to report suspected abuse, and the proper authorities will conduct a full investigation.

How to Report Elder Abuse

Reporting abuse is one of the most important ways you can protect an older adult in the event of abuse. Even if you are not related to an individual or directly involved in care, anybody can report suspected abuse. One of the best resources is the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), which generates confidential cases and investigates reports. In many states, NAPSA hotlines are available 24 hours a day.

Regulations and laws vary by state, and how you report will also depend on the type of elder abuse. For example, if you discover a financial scammer has financially exploited an older adult, the federal government has resources to report this fraud, whether it occurred by mail, phone, or electronically. NAPSA is one of the leading national-level reporting and investigatory agencies for addressing elder abuse, but there are many state-level resources you can access as well.

If you suspect abuse, don’t wait. It’s always best to err on the side of caution, and file a report with either a federal or state-level agency. If these agencies find no abuse through their investigations, the case will simply close (and of course, remain confidential).

Once you file a report for suspected abuse, you may not hear about the status of a report right away. This is due to confidentiality. Adult Protective Services follows a standardized procedure of investigating, thoroughly assessing risk, developing case plans, and executing and evaluating that plan. In some cases, relocation to different housing scenarios is necessary for the safety of the older adult, which APS can arrange in these cases. A sample APS flowchart demonstrating processes can be found here.

If you are unsure of which organization to contact, you can always report suspected abuse to local law enforcement, who can direct the report to the appropriate place.

What Other Resources Exist?

Sometimes, reporting is just the first step. Especially if you are close to an older adult (i.e. you are a family member, a close friend, or a caretaker), you may need to access additional resources:

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) provides legal support to older adults in cases of fraud, abuse, estate planning, and more, and can serve as a valuable place to find legal support.

The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging

Knowing the rights and legal options of older adults in situations of suspected abuse is an important part of being an advocate. The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging outlines legal rights, definitions, jurisdictions, and prior cases addressing elder abuse to help clarify the legal considerations surrounding abuse.

The National Alliance for Caregiving

The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) is an organization built to support family caregivers for older adults at home. The association provides local, state-level resources for caregivers to improve the lives of older adults living at home.

Office for Victims of Crime Tips for Responding to Elderly Victims.

Following the occurrence of elder abuse, it can be extraordinarily difficult for individuals to engage or feel comfortable again. There are many resources that can help you support an older adult dealing with emotional, financial, or physical repercussions of abuse, including the Office for Victims of Crime Tips for Responding to Elderly Victims. These tips are designed to help you provide the best emotional support possible during an overwhelmingly difficult time.

Anybody can help prevent and report elder abuse. By knowing the types and signs of abuse, understanding the legal rights of victims, and increasing awareness about abuse of older adults, you can help make a difference in the lives of those in your community and beyond.