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Signs. of Elder Abuse & What to Do About It

The Signs of Elder Abuse

We all want to believe that no one would ever intentionally harm our elderly loved ones. However, the truth is that senior citizens are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to abuse. The National Council on Aging (NCA) reports that one in ten American seniors (60+) have fallen victim to elder abuse. Current estimates project that only one in 24 cases are reported, suggesting that five million seniors are abused every year.

What is Elder Abuse?

The Centers for Disease Control defines elder abuse as “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates risk or harm to an older adult. An older adult is someone age 60 or older.” Sadly, in an overwhelming majority of cases, the perpetrator is a close family member or person the older adult trusts. In fact, according to the NCA, two-thirds of perpetrators are children or spouses of the older adult.

Types of Abuse

While it can take many forms, these are the five most common types of elder abuse:

  1. Physical abuse is characterized by the intentional use of physical force that causes illness, pain, injury, functional impairment, distress (physical or mental), or death.
  2. Neglect is failing to meet a person’s basic human needs. These include nutrition, water, safe shelter, appropriate clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care. Any person who is entrusted to provide care for another individual is responsible for ensuring these needs are met. Failing to do so constitutes abuse.
  3. Psychological or emotional abuse includes verbal or nonverbal behavior that causes distress, fear, psychological suffering, or mental anguish. Examples of this type of abuse include manipulation, verbal or non-verbal threats, humiliation, intimidation, harassment, shaming, criticism, isolation, or exploitation.
  4. Sexual abuse is characterized by the act of any forced, non-consensual, or unwanted sexual contact, interaction attention, or exploitation. Consent requires the capacity to understand what is happening in any situation. For the senior population experiencing even mild or intermittent dementia, this can make them especially at risk.
  5. Financial abuse¬†takes place when someone, usually a caregiver or trusted individual, illegally or improperly takes advantage of a senior’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the elder. This type of abuse can include identification theft, stealing money from bank accounts, fraud, incorrect billing of services, and selling off assets.

The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act

To fight the growing epidemic, the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) was signed into law on October 18, 2017, by President Donald Trump. This act enhances the government’s focus on elder abuse prevention by utilizing a multi-faceted approach to protecting elders by punishing perpetrators.

The goals of the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) are as follows.

  • Improve local, state, and federal data collection on elder abuse.
  • Support and improve the prosecution of perpetrators.
  • Improve elder abuse technical assistance and training for law enforcement.
  • Improve provided victim assistance programs and resources.
  • Increase penalties for perpetrators of email and telemarketing scams targeting elders.

While the EAPPA goes a long way to help prevent abuse by making it easier to report, track, and prosecute abusers, it’s important to know the signs of elder abuse and what you can do if you suspect an older adult is being abused.

Signs of Elder Abuse

While some signs of abuse may obvious — like the appearance of unexplained injuries like bruises, burns, or scars — others might be more difficult to spot. These may include:

  • Changes in mental or emotional state, such as depression, confusion, or becoming more withdrawn
  • Changes in hygiene or overall health — appearing dirty, malnourished, dehydrated, or improperly medicated
  • Continued illness or unhealed injuries, which may indicate the adult is not receiving medical attention
  • Appearances of bed sores or other preventable conditions
  • Isolation from friends and family or suddenly being surrounded by a new people who appear to be taking control of the adult’s affairs

What to Do if You Suspect Elder Abuse is Occurring

If you suspect elder abuse is occurring, one of the most important things you can do is document what’s going on. Take photographs of injuries, notes regarding changes in behavior, etc. Talk with the senior about your concerns to express support and help them get help, if needed. Be aware that a person experiencing any form of abuse might be embarrassed or afraid to speak up, and they may even deny abuse is happening, even when it’s obvious. If you believe elder abuse is occurring, the most important thing to do is provide support and help the elder adult get help.

However, even if the senior denies abuse, it’s important to report your concerns to your state’s agency. Ohio’s Department of Aging provides resources for those who are or who are suspected to be suffering from elder abuse. Certain professionals, including attorneys, physicians, and social workers, are required to report suspected elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.


Attorney Danielle PierceThe team at Pierce Legal is here to help you protect yourself and your loved ones from potential elder abuse. Our practice provides legal advice and guidance focused on asset protection through proper estate planning that includes creating important documents to put your most trusted advisors in place to have your best interests at heart. We can help guide and support the aging population by drafting an individualized estate plan that will meet their specific needs and ensure they are protected from those who would take advantage of them. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at (330) 588-6115.

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