Excellence is just the beginning.

5 Signs of Elder Abuse

How to keep seniors from being harmed

Experts estimate that at least 10 percent of older adults have experienced elder abuse — a broad term that covers physical, psychological or sexual abuse; neglect; and financial exploitation.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these cases go unreported.

"Fear, embarrassment or disability often can prevent older adults from speaking up," says XinQi Dong, MD, MPH, a geriatrician and associate director of the Rush Institute for Aging. But not bringing attention to the situation can keep seniors in harm's way. 

If you are a family member, friend, colleague or neighbor of an older adult, you can help prevent or put a stop to abuse by keeping a watchful eye.

How to recognize the signs

Although elder abuse can happen to anyone, people who suffer from dementia, depression, physical impairment or social isolation are most vulnerable. 

These are the types of abuse, and possible signs that an older adult might be experiencing them:

  1. Psychological abuse: The older adult's caregiver or family members use intimidation, threats or verbal abuse.
  2. Sexual abuse: The older adult fears being touched.
  3. Neglect: The older adult's basic needs (bathing, eating, living in a safe environment) are going unmet, either because of self-neglect or caregiver neglect.
  4. Physical abuse: The older adult has unexplained bruises, cuts, rope burns or even fractures.
  5. Financial exploitation: The older adult is missing money, documents or belongings. Unlike other kinds of elder abuse, which are usually carried out by family members or caregivers, financial exploitation often comes at the hands of people who don't know the victims.

If you had a stroke or a hip fracture, you wouldn't think of not getting treated. And the impact of elder abuse is just as significant.

Why you should speak up

Dong urges older adults and those who care for them to discuss any concerns about suspected abuse with a doctor or an anonymous hotline.

"If you had a stroke or a hip fracture, you wouldn't think of not getting treated," he points out. "And the impact of elder abuse is just as significant."

Older adults who experience abuse don't just have poorer quality of life. They are also more likely to visit the emergency room, end up in the hospital, and die from heart disease and other causes.

Where to turn for help

If you are experiencing abuse — or suspect someone you know might be experiencing it — talk to your doctor or use one of the following numbers:

  • The City of Chicago's Well Being Task Force provides free senior well-being checks. To register, visit rsh.md/senior-check. You can also request a well-being check for yourself or someone else by calling 311.
  • The State of Illinois operates an elder abuse hotline: (866) 800-1409 (voice) or (888) 206-1327 (TTY). Callers do not have to reveal their identities.
  • The state also operates a hotline where callers can report abuse in nursing homes: (800) 252-4343.

Stay Connected!

Sign up now for free health tips and medical news.