Fast Facts and Telltale Signs of Abuse in Elderly Patients

The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as an act that causes harm or distress to an older person by someone who they have a supposed trusting relationship with, such as a family member or caregiver. The abuse can be verbal, physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or financial. It can also be in the form of intentional or unintentional neglect.

Elderly patients who are weak, sick, or otherwise vulnerable are the usual victims of abuse. Perpetrators take advantage of older people because they are easy targets. They are frail and unlikely able to defend themselves.

Their illnesses or chronic conditions, such as dementia, can make them unable to report what is being done to them. If they have confusion or paranoia, people also tend to ignore what they say. They may have difficulty seeing, hearing, moving around, or asking for help, leaving a big opportunity for abusers to do to them as they please.

Here are some fast facts on elderly abuse:

1. Globally, 1 in 10 older persons is abused.

2. In the US, authorities receive more than half a million reports of elderly abuse each year.

3. Only 1 in 24 of these cases is reported, so the real figure is likely higher.

4. In a study, 36% of those surveyed saw an incident of abuse of an elderly patient. Shockingly, 40% admitted to having caused some form of psychological harm to their patients, and 10% claimed to have physically harmed their patient through restraining, restriction of patient rights, undignified treatment, provision of poor quality care, or the act of giving too little or too much medication.

5. Another study found out that 38% of older patients in a New York Medical center have been verbally wronged.

6. Here’s the worst yet: elders who are abused have a 300% higher risk of death.

What do these figures tell us? Elderly mistreatment is a huge problem, and we cannot assume the situation will get better, as we expect that by 2030, 1 in 5 American residents will be at least 65 years of age.

As caregivers, you should therefore keep your eyes open for these signs of elderly abuse:


1. Unexplained injuries such as fractures, dislocations, bruises, wounds, or welts in various stages of healing

2. Over- or under-medication, such as being drowsy all the time or reports of not getting enough pain relief

3. Restraint marks on the wrists or ankles

4. Abuser does not allow the elderly patient to be alone with someone else

5. The patient appears jumpy or panicky when the abuser is nearby


1. Controlling or belittling behavior by the abuser

2. The abuser finishes the patient’s sentences for them

3. Apathy or having an uncaring attitude

4. Withdrawal

5. Abuser makes important decisions for the patient


1. Bruises on or around the breasts and genital area

2. Blood stains on their undergarments

3. Unexplained pain or bleeding in their genital or anal area


1. Purchases charged to the account of the elderly person who could not have bought the items themselves

2. Suspicious withdrawal, ATM, and cash transactions

3. Sudden changes in their will and power of attorney


1. Malnutrition and dehydration

2. Weight loss

3. Untreated skin diseases and bed sores

4. Inappropriate clothing

5. Dirty or unsafe living conditions

6. Foul smell from soiled linens and undergarments, or from an unbathed patient

7. Leaving the elder alone without access to food, water, medicine, or any form of help

If you suspect that an elderly patient is a victim of abuse, do not confront the perpetrator yourself. Doing so can put the victim in more danger. If they need emergency services, call 911. Otherwise, follow agency policies and state laws on how to report such cases. Usually, the process involves contacting Adult Protective Services.

Caregivers can easily miss signs of elder abuse because they lack the awareness or are not trained to detect these signs. They should actively seek education on how to react in such situations and never hesitate to help when the need arises.