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Older woman in wheel chair looking sadly out the window at a nursing home

Understanding Elder Abuse

Older adults cannot always care for themselves. Unfortunately, some caretakers exploit this vulnerability or fail to meet the older adult’s needs. When this occurs, we call it elder abuse.

There are seven (7) different kinds of elder abuse that can occur no matter the person’s age, sex, or cultural background. Understanding each type of abuse can help us recognize and prevent it:

Physical Abuse

From hitting, pushing, and slapping to restraining an older adult against their will, physical elder abuse happens when someone causes bodily harm to an older adult.

Signs of physical abuse may include:

  • Unexplained bruises, burns, cuts, or scars
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames
  • Rope burns or physical signs of punishment or restraint
  • Rocking back and forth and other signs of trauma
  • The older adult acts withdrawn, agitated, or violent

Emotional Abuse

Abuse is not always physical. Emotional or psychological abuse occurs when the caregiver inflicts anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or non-verbal acts. Caregivers may say hurtful things, yell, threaten, or ignore the older adult.

They may also keep the older adult from seeing their friends, relatives, and other loved ones. This is an especially prevalent tactic at nursing homes.

Someone experiencing emotional abuse may suffer from isolation or behavioral changes.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when caregivers force older adults to watch or be part of sexual acts. Any kind of non-consensual sexual contact with an elderly person is sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse often occurs at nursing homes, particularly when these institutions do not perform proper background checks.

Physical signs of sexual abuse include torn or bloody clothes or undergarments, sexually transmitted diseases, bruises on both sides of the body or around the breast or genitals, and bleeding from the vagina or rectum.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is a widespread and hard-to-detect issue. It happens when someone with access to the older adult’s financial information uses their position to steal money or belongings. A caretaker may fail to meet an older adult’s financial responsibilities, change the names on important documents, or use their credit cards or bank accounts without permission.

Sadly, older adults are also subject to financial abuse from strangers online, exploitation and manipulation, and even health care fraud if doctors overcharge, bill twice for the same service, or falsify claims.

Check in on your loved one’s finances regularly, and if you notice they have an eviction notice or another sign of insufficient care or unpaid bills, start asking questions – especially if the older adult has enough money to meet their needs.


All older adults have physical, emotional, and social needs. Many of them also need medications and access to health care. Neglect occurs when a caregiver fails to respond to these needs or provide adequate access to food, water, hygiene, and medicine.

Signs of neglect may include:

  • Dirty, messy, or unwashed hair or clothes
  • Unexplained wright loss
  • Bed sores
  • Lack of medical aids (such as hearing aids and walkers)
  • Unsafe or unclean living conditions
  • Signs of dehydration or starvation


Leaving an older adult who needs care and supervision alone is similar to leaving an infant child or a toddler alone and is a form of elder abuse. Abandonment and neglect may be especially upsetting when caretakers pay nurses, long-term care facilities, or other health care professionals to care for their loved ones.


The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) recognizes self-neglect as a form of elder abuse. The American Psychological Association defines self-neglect as “behaviors of an elderly person that threaten the elder’s health or safety.”

Refusal to accept care and self-isolating are both examples of self-neglect.

What To Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse

If you are worried about an older adult, try talking with them one-on-one to find out what is happening. If the older adult’s nursing home fails to give you alone time with your loved one, escalate to the complaint right away. You may need to report your experience to adult protective services or hire an attorney to help you investigate and put an end to the abuse.

Finding out that your loved one has been the victim abuse is a stressful and emotional situation, especially if you trusted the abusive caretaker.

Do not try to handle the situation on your own. Instead, report the abuse to the appropriate state agency (NCEA has resources by state) and consider hiring a lawyer to protect your loved one’s legal rights.

Our team at Lauri J. Goldstein & Associates, PLLC is available 24/7 to help you with nursing home abuse cases and we will fight for your rights and your family.

Elder abuse does not stop on its own, nor does justice happen by accident.

Call us at (866) 675-4427 or contact us online to get started with a free consultation today.