Preventing Elder Abuse: Knowing the Signs

Baby boomers are entering retirement. Elder abuse is on the rise. And the public knows little about how to prevent it. One of the first steps towards prevention is recognizing the signs.

Sometimes signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation appear to be symptoms of dementia or signs of the elderly person’s frailty, which is also a common explanation provided by caretakers. And in fact, many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration. However, never let your inquiry stop at the caretakers’ word; always investigate the signs.

General signs of abuse

The following are warning signs of some kind of elder abuse:

  • Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the elderly person
  • Changes in personality or behavior in the elder

If you suspect elderly abuse, but aren’t sure, look for clusters of the following physical and behavioral signs:

Emotional abuse

In addition to the general signs above, indications of emotional elder abuse include:

  • Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior that you witness
  • Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself

Physical abuse

  • Unexplained signs of injury such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if they appear symmetrically on two side of the body
  • Broken bones, sprains, or dislocations
  • Report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining than it should)
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames
  • Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists
  • Caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the elder alone

Neglect by caregivers or self-neglect

  • Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
  • Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores
  • Unsanitary living conditions: dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes
  • Being left dirty or unbathed
  • Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather
  • Unsafe living conditions (no heat or running water; faulty electrical wiring, other fire hazards)
  • Desertion of the elder at a public place

Financial exploitation

  • Significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts
  • Sudden changes in the elder’s financial condition
  • Items or cash missing from the elder’s household
  • Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies
  • Addition of names to the senior’s signature card
  • Unpaid bills or lack of medical care, although the elder has enough money to pay for them
  • Financial activity the senior couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden
  • Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions

Healthcare fraud and abuse

  • Duplicate billings for the same medical service or device
  • Evidence of overmedication or undermedication
  • Evidence of inadequate care when bills are paid in full
  • Problems with the care facility:
    – Poorly trained, poorly paid, or insufficient staff
    – Crowding
    – Inadequate responses to questions about care

The baby boomers are just entering retirement. Incidents of abuse are increasing exponentially. The public needs to be educated about the signs of abuse. Knowing the problem is the first step towards preventing the problem.

For any questions or inquiries please visit or call (800) 981-5932.

Jeff Aidikoff is an elder abuse attorney in Beverly Hills, CA. He can be reached at (800) 981-5932 or

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