Preventing Elder Abuse in Older Americans

Our senior population is growing at a record pace, and with the numbers increasing daily, so are crimes and abuse on our most vulnerable Americans, senior citizens.

With June being World Elder Abuse month, we thought it would be the perfect time to discuss the causes of elder abuse, how to prevent it from occurring and what to do about it should it happen to you.


According to the National Council on Aging, Elder Abuse comes in various forms and degrees. It could be physical, emotional, financial exploitation, abandonment or sexual abuse. Interestingly, it could even be passive neglect when a caregiver fails to provide necessities like food, shelter clothing or medical care.

Statistics show that most of the abuse cases go unreported and according to Karen Nicolson, CEO of Legal Services for the Elderly, $36 billion is lost annually to financial exploitation across the United States.

Sadly, many times the victims know their abusers and often the perpetrator happens to be a family member. On many occasions, the abuser is depending on the victim for a place to live or for money and the abuser is suffering from psychological or personal problems.

The National Institute of Justice reports that researchers have adapted a number of existing theories of interpersonal violence to supplement the study of elder abuse and have proposed a range of explanations as to why it occurs:

  • Abusers have learned from the behavior of others around them that violence is a way to solve problems or obtain a desired outcome.
  • Abusers feel they don't receive enough benefit or recognition from their relationship with the elderly person, so they resort to violence in an effort to obtain their "fair share."
  • A combination of background and current factors, such as recent conflicts and a family history of "solving" problems through violence, influences the relationship.
  • Abusers use a pattern of coercive tactics to gain and maintain power and control in a relationship.
  • Elder abuse can be attributed to both the victim's and the abuser's social and biomedical characteristics, the nature of their relationship within their shared environment of family and friends.

Elder abuse is affecting hundreds of thousands of senior citizens across the United States, but because on many occasions a family member happens to be the one abusing the victim, it often times goes unreported. , typically the victim is afraid of being retaliated against, being institutionalized, separated from family or the criminal justice system.

Some of the physical elder abuse warning signs to always look for are:

  • Unexplained bruises, welts, sores, cuts or abrasions in places they would normally not be expected
  • Fractures in different stages of healing
  • Cigar and cigarette burns
  • Rope burns on arms/wrists, legs/ankles from improperly tying or bandaging the elderly victim
  • Injury that has not been cared for properly
  • Injury that is inconsistent with explanation for its cause
  • Dehydration or malnutrition without illness-related cause
  • Poor coloration or sunken eyes and cheeks
  • Inappropriate administration of medication
  • Forced isolation
  • Repeated time lags between the time of any "injury or fall" and medical treatment
  • Non-responsiveness, resignation, ambivalence
  • Confusion or disorientation

The National Coalition on Aging reports that we have over 5 million seniors suffering from elder abuse annually and 1 in 10 aged 60 plus have experienced some form of elder abuse. It is imperative that we spend time educating seniors, professionals, caregivers, and the public on abuse to prevent it.

If you’re an older adult, you can stay safe by:

  • Taking care of your health.
  • Seeking professional help for drug, alcohol, and depression concerns and urging family members to get help for these problems.
  • Attending support groups for spouses and learning about domestic violence services.
  • Planning for your own future. With a power of attorney or a living will, you can address health care decisions now to avoid confusion and family problems later. Seek independent advice from someone you trust before signing any documents.
  • Staying active in the community and connected with friends and family. This will decrease social isolation, which has been connected to elder abuse.
  • Posting and opening your own mail.
  • Not giving personal information over the phone.
  • Using direct deposit for all checks.
  • Having your own phone.
  • Reviewing your will periodically.
  • Knowing your rights. If you engage the services of a paid or family caregiver, you have the right to voice your preferences and concerns. If you live in a nursing home, call your Long Term Care Ombudsman. The ombudsman is your advocate and has the power to intervene.

It is our responsibility to lookout for our seniors and keep them safe from harm, but if you know of someone who is in immediate or is experiencing life threatening harm, call 911. The National Center on Elder Abuse said it is a good idea to tell a doctor, friend, family member or call the Adult Protective Services program in your area.

Additionally, you can call the Eldercare Locator 1-800-677-1116.


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