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What are the warning signs of elder abuse?

While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, there are some tell-tale signs that there could be a problem:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs

Elder abuse takes many forms and each has their own specific warning signs.

Financial Exploitation

  • Lack of affordable amenities and comforts in an elder's home
  • Giving uncharacteristically excessive gifts or financial reimbursement for needed care and companionship
  • A caregiver has control of an elder's money but fails to provide for the elder's needs
  • An older adult has signed property transfers (power of attorney or will, for example) but is unable to comprehend what the transaction means

Physical Abuse

  • Inadequately explained fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores, or burns
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases


  • Lack of basic hygiene or appropriate clothing
  • Lack of food
  • Lack of medical aids (e.g., glasses, walker, dentures, hearing aid, or medications)
  • Person with dementia left unsupervised
  • Person confined in bed is left without care
  • Home is cluttered, dirty, or in despair
  • Home lacks adequate facilities (stove, refrigerator, heating and cooling, plumbing, or electricity)
  • Untreated bed sores or pressure ulcers

Emotional Abuse

  • Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from normal activities, or unexplained changes in alertness
  • Caregiver isolates the elder (doesn't let anyone in the home or speak to the elder)
  • Caregiver is verbally aggressive or demeaning, controlling, or uncaring