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Warning Signs for Spotting Hidden Elder Abuse

signs of elder abuse, senior care, home care services

Elder abuse is a common but under-reported problem. As seniors get older, they often have a harder time managing the affairs of everyday life, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The National Council on Aging estimates that one out of ten seniors has experienced some form of elder abuse, while only one out of fourteen seniors actually receive the help they need.

Elder abuse has serious physical, emotional, and financial ramifications. Seniors who are being abused are at increased risk for being hospitalized, developing depression, or dying. It's critically important for family members, friends, and caregivers to be able to recognize the signs of hidden elder abuse so that they can step in if it seems like something isn't right.

The Different Types of Elder Abuse

Not all cases of elder abuse are the same. Here are a few of the most common types of abuse to look out for.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves harming a senior physically. This can mean hitting, kicking, scratching, or otherwise striking them. It can also mean giving them inappropriate medications or confining them to the same place for extended periods of time.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing a senior to watch or participate in sexual acts against their will. Rape is one type of sexual abuse, but it isn't the only one. Other examples include making someone look at pornography, forcing someone to undress, and making someone engage in inappropriate touching.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional elder abuse involves intimidation, degradation, or name-calling that makes the senior feel bad about themselves or afraid for their safety. Examples of emotional abuse include speaking cruelly to someone, ignoring them when they talk, humiliating them on purpose, and not letting them make decisions for themselves.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse involves taking advantage of a senior financially. This might mean stealing money from them or using their credit cards without permission. It can also mean tricking a senior into making poor financial decisions or signing away their rights.


Neglect occurs when a senior isn't getting the support they need to live a safe and healthy life. Malnutrition, unsafe or unsanitary living conditions, and unpaid bills can all be indicators that a senior is being neglected.

10 Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

1. Unexplained bruises, cuts, welts, or other injuries.

Everybody gets bruises and scratches from time to time, so a single instance isn't necessarily cause for concern. But if a senior frequently gets new bruises, welts, fractures, or other injuries, someone may be physically abusing them. Some seniors don't want to tell anyone about the abuse, so they may make up improbable-sounding excuses for how they got hurt.

2. Poor hygiene.

If a senior seems to be struggling with their hygiene, they may be suffering from neglect. Common examples of poor hygiene include:

  • Wearing dirty clothes

  • Not showering or bathing

  • Having messy hair

  • Having long or dirty nails

Some seniors become embarrassed about their hygiene problems and withdraw from other people. This can make the problem harder to spot.

3. A messy house.

Another common sign of neglect is a messy, dirty, or unsafe house. This is an especially big red flag in seniors who were previously careful to keep their house tidy and clean. If trash is piling up, bathrooms and kitchens are unsanitary, or the house has a problem with rodents or bugs, it's a clear sign that the senior needs help.

4. Isolation or confinement.

People who abuse seniors often try to control what their victims do, where they can go, and who they can talk to. As a result, many seniors who are being abused become isolated from their friends and loved ones. If a formerly outgoing senior stops coming to social events, or if a family member or caregiver refuses to let other people see the senior, something is probably not right.

5. A sudden change in personality.

Abuse can cause formerly happy people to become frightened, withdrawn, or depressed. If a senior's personality seems to change abruptly — for instance, if they stop talking much or if they seem to get angry more frequently — it might be a red flag that they're being abused. It could also be a sign that they're having health problems and need medical care.

6. Frequent visits to the doctor or hospital.

Some seniors have long-term health issues that require frequent trips to the doctor's office. But if a senior keeps going to the doctor or the hospital for unexplained reasons, it could be due to injuries caused by physical abuse.

7. Unpaid bills.

Any kind of sudden or unexplained change in a senior's financial situation should throw up a red flag. For instance, if a senior doesn't have the money to pay their bills or cover their health care expenses (even though they used to have money), somebody else may be stealing from them. Or, if a senior's bills start going unpaid, their caregivers or family members may be neglecting them.

8. Frequently "losing" objects.

If a senior keeps losing or misplacing their belongings, somebody may actually be stealing those items. This is especially true if the senior has dementia and if the missing items are valuable.

9. Weight loss.

Weight loss is a major red flag in seniors. It can be a symptom of health problems, depression, or neglect. In particular, seniors who struggle to buy food and cook for themselves may lose weight if they are being neglected by their caregivers.

10. Reluctance to talk to friends, family members, or neighbors.

Many seniors don't want to tell anyone they are being abused. They might be ashamed, confused about what's happening, or afraid of what their abuser will do if anyone finds out. If something seems "off" with a senior, but they don't seem to want to talk about what's going on, they may be in trouble.

Get the Best Home Care Services in California

Elder abuse is a big problem, and many cases are never discovered or reported. Family members, friends, and caregivers can all help prevent elder abuse by learning about the signs, keeping an eye out for red flags, and speaking up on behalf of the seniors in their lives.

The home caregivers at Alegre Home Care receive the best training in California, including learning how to be an advocate for their clients. If you are looking for quality home care services with trusted and experienced home caregivers, please contact us at one of our California locations.

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