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Do You Know How to Spot Signs of Elder Abuse?

By Kristina Weatherly | June 15, 2019 | Community Health

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Elder abuse is an issue that is hard to stomach, but an important one to talk about. By knowing the signs, we can raise awareness, educate, and take action to support this vulnerable population.

What is elder abuse?  The National Center on Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as the mistreatment or harming of an older person. It can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, along with neglect and financial exploitation. Many social factors—for example, a lack of support services and community resources—raise the chances of elder abuse in communities across our state.

The highest rates of elder abuse are in women and in persons 80 years or older.  If the elder lives at home, most of the time the abuser is a family member.  In the nursing home, the abuser is often a fellow resident. Elder abuse is a risk of premature death.

Close to Home

Do you know someone that has been affected by elder abuse? I do – and that makes Elder Abuse Awareness Day personal to me. Years ago, my great-grandmother was attacked by a lawn care worker and shoved into her closet in her home. She passed away from her injuries. Elder abuse is real and we all must do our part to recognize and prevent this exploitation.

Abuse takes on many forms and according to the American Society on Aging, an estimated 5 million older persons are abused, neglected and exploited. Older adults throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation, funds that they desperately need to pay for basics such as housing, food, and medical care.

Financial scams committed via phone and electronic communications are on the rise and are often the hardest to prosecute because they originate in other countries.

Even worse, it is estimated that only about one in five of those crimes are ever reported.

What can you do?

The most important thing to do is to be on the lookout! Here are some signs:

Emotional & Behavioral Signs

  • Unusual changes in behavior or sleep
  • Fear or anxiety
  • Isolated or not responsive
  • Depression

Physical Signs

  • Broken bones, bruises, and welts
  • Cuts, sores or burns
  • Untreated bed sores
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
  • Dirtiness, poor nutrition or dehydration
  • Poor living conditions
  • Lack of medical aids (glasses, walker, teeth, hearing aid, medications)

Questions to ask the elder if you suspect abuse

  • Do you feel safe where you live?
  • Who prepares your meals?
  • Who handles your checkbook?

If the elder answers ‘yes’ to the first question,  more investigation may need to be done – see ‘reporting’ below.

Financial Signs

  • Unusual changes in a bank account or money management
  • Unusual or sudden changes in a will or other financial documents
  • Fraudulent signatures on financial documents or unpaid bills

How can you report suspected abuse?

If we notice some of these signs of abuse, it is our duty to report it to the proper authorities. Programs such as Adult Protective Services (APS) and the Long-Term Care Ombudsmen are here to help. For reporting numbers, contact Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 ( If you or someone you know is in a life-threatening situation or immediate danger, call 911 or local law enforcement. Local departments of social service investigate allegations of abuse here in North Carolina.