Recognizing Older Adult Abuse

Recognize the warning signs:

  • In an older adult: Be on the lookout for an older friend or acquaintance who seems to be in a troubling situation but is reluctant to answer questions about it. If he or she appears hungry, unclean, frightened of his or her caregiver, is frequently bruised, ill, neglected, or often confused, this may indicate abuse. Changes in personality—such as a lack of interest in activities that he or she used to enjoy, or unusual nervousness—may also be signs of a problem such as abuse. If you can’t get more information, trust your gut: if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
  • In a caregiver: If you see a caregiver attempting to dominate an older adult that may be a warning sign of abuse. If the caregiver is verbally or physically abusive to the older person, to you or anyone around you; if there is evidence of substance abuse or mental health problems in the caregiver; or if the caregiver is financially dependent on the older adult and expresses continual concern about money, this is cause for concern.
  • In the home: If an older adult or caregiver won’t let others into the home there may be a problem. Signs that something is wrong in and around the home include an accumulation of newspapers and mail; a lack of attention to the home or a home that is in a state of disrepair; large numbers of people using the home; and odd noises or bad odors coming from the home.

Look for possible indicators:

Financial Abuse

  • Large sums of money are taken from a bank account
  • Signatures on cheques or other papers look suspicious
  • The older person is in debt and does not know why
  • Bank statements are no longer being sent to the older person’s home
  • The older person cannot buy food or personal care items, or pay bills
  • The older person’s will is unexpectedly changed
  • The older person’s home is unexpectedly sold
  • Personal belongings, such as clothes or jewellery, are missing from an older person’s home or room in an institution
  • The older person is asked to sign legal papers (such as a power of attorney, a will or a joint deed to a house) without being able to understand what they mean
  • The older person cannot remember signing papers or making certain money transfers
  • The older person is not allowed to decide or speak for himself or herself
  • The older person is isolated from friends and family
  • The older person feels afraid or worried when talking about money
(Financial Abuse of Older Adults: National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Teresa Lukawiecki; 1999)

Physical Abuse
Unexplained reason or explanation inconsistent with: bruises, welts, swelling, lacerations, punctures, fractures, restricted movement, repeated falls, internal injuries. Other indicators may be rope burns, hypothermia or grip marks.

Sexual Abuse
Genital infections, pain, bruising, bleeding in genital area, inappropriate sexual comments by caregiver, rope marks or other signs of physical restraint.

Psychological (Emotional) Abuse
Low self esteem, agitation, difficulty sleeping or needs excessive sleep, withdrawal, passivity, resignation, tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness / helplessness, unexplained fearfulness (particularly in the presence of the caregiver), significant change in weight, no visitors/outings, deference to the caregiver.

A senior may be suffering from neglect if he or she appears:

  • emaciated, malnourished or dehydrated
  • confused
  • inappropriately dressed
  • under- or over- medicated
  • unkempt appearance or personal surroundings (i.e, soiled clothes or linens)
  • has open sores

Signs of neglect in a senior’s living environment include:

  • home is dirty or in a state of disrepair
  • smell of urine or feces in the home
  • lack of required safety features in the home

Other possible indicators of neglect:

  • the senior is left alone without supervision or assistance when needed
  • medical appointments are cancelled on a regular basis or senior does not show up for the scheduled appointment