senior woman checking on the assisted living costs


From a distance, it can be hard to assess the quality of your parent’s caregivers. Ideally, if there is a primary caregiver on the scene, he or she can keep tabs on how things are going.


In This Article:

What is Elder Mistreatment?
Signs of Elder Mistreatment & Abuse


Elder Mistreatment

Elder mistreatment is the intentional or unintentional hurting, either physical or emotional, of an older person.


A geriatric care manager can help. You can stay in touch by phone and take note of any concerns that might indicate elder neglect, abuse, or mistreatment. These can happen in any setting, at any socioeconomic level. They can take many forms, including domestic violence, emotional abuse, financial abuse, and basic neglect.


The stress that may happen when adult children care for their aging parents can take a toll on everyone. In some families, abuse continues a long-standing family pattern. In others, the older adult’s need for constant care can cause a caregiver to lash out with verbal or physical abuse. In some cases, especially in the mid-to-late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the older adult may become physically aggressive and difficult to manage. This might cause a caregiver to respond angrily. But no matter what the cause or who is the perpetrator, abuse and neglect are never acceptable responses.


If you feel that your parent is in physical danger, contact the authorities right away. If you suspect abuse, but do not feel there is an immediate risk, contact someone who can act on your behalf: your parent’s doctor, for instance, or your contact at a home health agency. Suspected abuse must be reported to adult protective services.


Signs of Elder Mistreatment & Abuse

Some signs to watch for:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may indicate physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may indicate emotional abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual, unexplained weight loss can indicate neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses may indicate verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, and frequent arguments between the caregiver and older person can indicate mistreatment.


If your parent is in a long-term care facility, the facility must take steps to prevent (and report) abuse. Nursing homes, like hospitals, are subject to strict State licensing requirements and Federal regulations. Even so, neglect and abuse can occur. If the situation is serious, threatening, or dangerous call 911 or the local police for immediate help.


If the elder lives in another state, call the protective services agency where the elder lives. In some states you can call a hotline toll-free. Many states also have online directories that list local reporting numbers.


Information and referral is also available from the National Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging. Call toll-free 1-800-677-1116. This number is available from Monday through Friday 9 AM-8 PM (except U.S. federal holidays).


Signs of Self-Neglect

Self-neglect describes situations in which older people put themselves at high risk. People who neglect themselves may have a disorder, which impairs their judgment or memory. They may have a chronic disease. Knowing where to draw the line between self-neglect and a person’s right to independence can be hard.


Here are some signs that may mean it’s time to intervene:

  • Hoarding
  • Failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness
  • Leaving a burning stove unattended
  • Poor hygiene
  • Not wearing suitable clothing for the weather
  • Confusion
  • Inability to attend to housekeeping
  • Dehydration


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