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Recognizing Elder Abuse and Stopping It


When you hear the term “elder abuse,” you might automatically think of abuse that happens to patients in nursing homes. But according to the American Psychological Association, the vast majority of elder abuse happens at home, by family members and by professional caregivers.


This kind of abuse is serious, not only because it is heartbreaking to think of an elderly person suffering from abuse, but also because research shows that old people who do suffer this way tend to die earlier than people who are not abused.


The abuse can come in many different forms—physical, emotional or psychological. It can also occur when someone exploits the older person financially. And it can come in the form of neglect.

  • Physical abuse is the easiest to spot. Besides severe beating, it can also include slapping and shoving, restraining with ropes or chains or any other physical mistreatment. Neglect is also considered physical abuse. Neglect can include withholding medication, over-medicating, depriving the person of food, isolating the person, etc.
  • Emotional and psychological abuse can include name-calling, giving the “silent treatment,” threatening or intimidating. Basically, any behavior that causes an elder to feel afraid, distressed or full of anguish could be considered emotional or psychological abuse.

Signs that an elder is being abused

Very often, older people will be reluctant to reveal that abuse is going on. It can be embarrassing, for one thing. For another, they may still feel dependent on the abusive caregiver. They may also be afraid of the caregiver. Signs that an elder is being abused include:

  • Repeated, unexplained injuries, such as bruises, rope marks, welts,
  • Evasive answers when asked about injuries
  • Refusal to go to the same emergency room twice for repeat injuries
  • Lack of interest in normal communication or social contacts
  • A fearful or suspicious attitude
  • Extreme thirst
  • Weight loss

What causes caregivers to become abusive?

  • The stress of being a caregiver itself
  • Addiction to alcohol or other drugs
  • Personal crisis, such as job loss

When family members, especially adult children of the elder, are the caregivers, they often face the constant tug of working full-time, raising their own children, taking care of the household and needing to take care of their aging parent. Frequently, this need to care for the parent creates an additional financial burden. It can be too much for some people to handle, and that can cause the abusive behavior.


What should you do if you suspect that elder abuse is occurring?

If you think that someone in your family is abusing your elderly relative, do not let things continue this way. It is important to report it. Talk with a trusted doctor or, if available, a healthcare provider who specializes in geriatric services.


If you do not know anyone you can report the abuse to, use your state resources. Every state has a service designated to receive and investigate allegations of elder abuse. Call the Eldercare locator at 1-800-677-1116.


If you try to confront the abuser yourself, you may be putting the elderly person more at risk. Do this only if there is somewhere else for the elder to go. It is best to let professionals handle this difficult situation.


If you yourself are being abused…

Ask a doctor or trusted friend to help remove you from your situation. Your doctor is legally obligated to report the person who is abusing you and to help you find a safe situation.


If you yourself are being abusive…Change your situation. Get outside help. Open up to others. Join a caregiver support group. If the burden is too much for you, ask others to share it.

American Psychological Association; National Institute on Aging
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