7 Types of Elder Abuse, How To Spot It, And What To Do About It

5. Sexual Abuse

Though its hard to talk about or even think about, vulnerable older adults are at risk of sexual abuse. This can range from violent acts and physically taking advantage of someone to things like showing an older adult pornography against their will or forcing them to undress or watch someone else undress.

Some of the signs of sexual abuse will look similar to those of emotional abuse: withdrawal, emotional distance, and nervousness around the caregiver. Physical signs might include bruises around the breast or genitals, symptoms of venereal disease, blood or stains on undergarments, bleeding from genitals or anus, or difficulty walking or getting up. In the case of sexual abuse, shame may be an added barrier to someone asking for help or reporting the abuser.

Photo: AdobeStock/pressmaster
Photo: AdobeStock/pressmaster

6. Healthcare Fraud

This is a form of financial abuse, but it looks a little different and may be harder to spot. Healthcare fraud involves unethical practices by healthcare providers who may profit from an older adult by charging for services not actually rendered, overcharging, getting kickbacks for referrals or prescribing specific drugs, over- or under-medicating, or recommending unnecessary products or services.

The warning signs of healthcare fraud are duplicate billings, evidence of over- or under-medicating, inadequate care, or problems with a healthcare facility such as unqualified, insufficient, or underpaid staff. Watch out for staff who are unable to sufficiently explain services or hesitant to answer questions.

Photo: AdobeStock/HQUALITY
Photo: AdobeStock/HQUALITY

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7. Self-Neglect

Self-neglect can occur when an older adult is no longer able to care for themselves properly because of mental of physical challenges, or it may be a result of depression or grief. Sometimes an adult will be embarassed to ask for help or worried about losing their freedom if they ask for support.

Self-neglect is unfortunately a common form of neglect, and can be dangerous even if it’s not done on purpose. Older adults not able to care for themselves properly may have poor hygiene, look dehydrated or malnourished, lose weight, be unable to pay bills, mismanage medication, or live in unsanitary or dangerous conditions.

Photo: AdobeStock/mostockfootage
Photo: AdobeStock/mostockfootage

4 Ways to Prevent and Report Elder Abuse and Neglect


1. Stay Connected

One of the most important things we can to to spot and prevent abuse is to stay connected to our aging loved ones. It’s easy to fall out of touch with someone who’s not as mentally sharp as they once were, but by staying connected and checking in you provide a lifeline for someone who needs one. You’ll also be better able to notice unusual behaviors if you are familiar with a person’s usual behavior.

2. Support Caregivers

Caregiving is physically and mentally tough and often thankless. A family member acting as a caregiver may not receive financial compensation for their time. Abuse is never excusable, but an overworked caregiver is more likely to vent their frustration and cause harm. Making sure that caregivers are supported, appreciated, properly trained, and have adequate time to themselves can reduce the risk of elder abuse.

3. Caregiver Self-Care

If you are a caregiver, it can be tough to make time for yourself when you are caring for another adult. Realize that burnout is common, and it’s best to reach out for help early and often. Make sure to take care of your physical health by eating right, getting good rest, and exercising. Explain to other family members why it’s important that you receive regular help and respite. Finding a caregiver support group or a friend to talk to about your frustrations can help relieve pent-up stress.

4. Report Abuse and Neglect

If you suspect an older adult is being abused, it’s vital that you report it. You may be the only one who sees what is going on. There are several ways you can go about reporting elder abuse:

  • If you suspect someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
  • It’s usually best not to confront an abusive caregiver directly as it may put the older adult at risk for retaliation.
  • Be persistent. If the person you are concerned about does not want your help, keep checking in with them. Try having family members or professionals they respect talk to them about your concerns.
  • Contact the National Center on Elder Abuse to look up resources in your state. You can also call them at 800-677-1116.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services online or at 800-222-8000.
  • Contact the long-term care ombudsman in your area. Ombudsman are advocates for residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • If you are not in the United States, search for similar services in your country.
  • Keep records of suspicious behaviors or conditions. Talking to witnesses, taking pictures of injuries and living conditions, and noting changes in behavior can be helpful when you report your suspicions—but be sure you can do this in a way that doesn’t increase danger for the victim.

It’s heartbreaking to think that an older adult could be abused in any way, and it’s much easier to ignore warning signs and tell ourselves that we’re overreacting or that someone else will do something. The reality is that you may be the only person willing or able to step in, so please stay connected with loved ones and reach out for help if needed. It’s better to over-report than wonder if you’ve left someone alone in an abusive situation.

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