How to Spot Signs of Elder Abuse

According to the World Health Organization, one in six people 60 years or older experienced abuse in 2019. Elder abuse is a public health issue that runs deep in healthcare and retirement communities, and it’s believed that abuse statistics are actually much higher than what’s reported throughout the U.S. This is because studies of hospitals and long-term care facilities fail to show the scope of abuse due to underreporting. Self-reporting has, however, given us a better picture of the extent of the abuse older people may face.

Understanding the Scope of the Problem

The extent of elder abuse is not limited to physical signs and symptoms. In fact, the mental and emotional damage that result are sometimes the most severe of all. According to the World Health Organization, psychological abuse is the most prevalent form of elder abuse. Situations where psychological abuse has occurred in institutions have led to further deterioration in physical health and, at times, have jeopardized the individual’s chance of recovering.

Physical abuse is another common form of elder abuse. The symptoms of physical abuse can range from minor bruising to major broken bones. Physical elder abuse takes place in many long-term care facilities and health institutions.

Institutional physical abuse can include:

  • Restraining patients
  • Leaving the patient in soiled clothes for extended periods
  • Intentional, insufficient care
  • Over- or under-medicating
  • And more

Physical abuse of a mature adult can lead to significant injuries, such as broken bones or worse. Older people are particularly susceptible in these situations due to their regressive ability to heal, which means even minor injuries can result in significant complications for older people. Studies have found that victims of elder abuse are twice as likely to die prematurely than their peers who have not experienced abuse.

Know the Signs

Elder abuse leaves physical and emotional scars on victims. Some of the signs of elder abuse are more obvious than others, and paying attention to older adults around you could save a victim from further abuse.

Signs of elder abuse include:

  • An elderly adult seems depressed, confused, or withdrawn
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Unexplained bruises, burns, or scars
  • The older person appears dirty, malnourished, over-or undermedicated
  • Bed sores or other preventable conditions
  • Recent changes in banking or spending patterns

Older adults are susceptible to many kinds of abuse, and they often overlap. For example, physical and psychological abuse can lead to severe mental deterioration, ongoing physical ailments and, in some cases, death. If you see signs of elder abuse, speak with the victim and contact Adult Protective Services, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or the police.

Adult Protective Services is responsible for providing information and referrals to other agencies. Under the Department of Social Services is also the Office of the State Long-Term Ombudsman (OSLTCO). An ombudsman investigates and reports abuse in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and adult day programs. Hospitals also have jurisdiction to report alleged abuse at health care facilities and California State Mental Hospitals. These services are available to any dependent adult or older person regardless of their income. Elder abuse has historically low reporting among health care personnel. However, there are methods of prevention you can use to protect older people from abuse.


On an institutional level, screening potential victims and abusers can help tackle the problem at the source. Removing potential abusers from the hiring pool cuts down on the risk of abuse from healthcare providers. Caregiver support interventions are essential in maintaining the quality of caregiving for older adults. Overworked caregivers do not provide the level of care that many dependent adults need. By catering to caregivers, you help ensure that they can give adequate attention to their patients.

On an individual level, if you are a child or grandchild of an older adult in a long-term care facility, hospital, or guardianship, you have the power to report elder abuse and protect your loved one. Adult Protective Services takes elder abuse seriously. Investigation and reporting of abuse helps agencies like the APS record accurate data on the rate of abuse and prevent it in the future.

Protecting Your Loved Ones

If you believe you have an elder abuse case, contact a qualified attorney. Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP has over 50 years of legal experience in more than 1000 cases in and out of court. Our team is fiercely dedicated to our clients, and we have a track record of success. Choose an award-winning team you can trust to fight for you.

Call Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP at (800) 462-7160 or visit us online to schedule a consultation.