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How to Spot Elder Abuse and Neglect

Garcia & Artigliere

Older generations are living longer and healthier lives, but as with anything that sees growing numbers — a popular music festival, a blossoming city center — the risks increase as well.

It might be surprising for people to learn that most elder abuse and neglect happens in residential homes rather than nursing homes or other institutional facilities. An estimated four million citizens are victims of abuse — psychological, physical, emotional or otherwise, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). It’s also estimated that 23 cases per every one case of elder abuse and neglect go unreported.

Even though it was recently noted that nursing home negligence still occurs with high frequency in states like Texas, most seniors (about 95 percent) live with family and caregivers or on their own. Thus, when elder abuse and neglect occurs, victimizers are usually family members (spouses, children) or assigned, paid caretakers.

Spotting elder abuse can sometimes prove difficult as forms of abuse can be subtle and lack clear physical markers. The APA notes that “the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is not always easy to discern.”

Elder abuse can be a long-standing pattern of behavior within families or brought about by situational changes, such as the senior’s increasing needs and dependencies. Elder abuse and neglect can happen in any culture to any socioeconomic group.

Forms of abuse:

  • Physical — Behavior is considered abusive when it causes superfluous injury or pain, even if the intention is to help the senior. This abuse can range from shoving and slapping to beating and restraints. Burning, biting, pushing, beating, kicking and pinching also constitutes abuse.
  • Emotional/Psychological — Intimidation or name-calling, even juvenile behavior known as the “silent treatment,” is considered a form of abuse. Whatever causes fear, emotional pain, anguish, and distress can be considered abusive. Yelling, swearing and disrespectful comments toward a senior also are considered forms of abuse. Coercive behavior, such as establishing a power hierarchy is considered psychological abuse. Treating an elderly individual like a child is grounds for abuse charges as well.
  • Sexual — This abuse can range from forcing the seniors to look at pornography to raping them, sodomy and forced nudity. This is the least reported form of abuse, but that does not mean it cannot or does not occur under the radar of family members.
  • Financial — From fraud to embezzlement, financial abuse encompasses a wide sphere. It can include purchasing an expensive item with the senior’s money without her or his knowledge or permission. This category also includes telephone, face-to-face or Internet scams by salespeople.
  • Neglect — Neglect occurs with caregivers fail to provide the basic needs of seniors, such as meeting food, shelter and medication requirements. Self-neglect is defined as seniors who harm themselves by not eating, keeping medical appointments, compulsive hoarding or abusing drugs.

Signs of abuse:

  • Physical — Bruises, welts or other abnormal markings and unexplained injuries. Refusing to go to the ER for repetitive injuries is abnormal and usually a sign of abuse.
  • Emotional/Psychological — Is the person unresponsive or lacks interest in social contact? Are they fearful or suspicious? Look for behavior changes that seem uncharacteristic of the individual’s disposition.
  • Sexual — Bleeding and bruising or new infections or diseases should be cause for alarm.
  • Financial —Large withdrawals from bank accounts, suspicious ATM activity and unmatched signatures on checks are suspect.
  • Neglect — Check for weight loss, dehydration and inadequate amounts of food, water, hygiene, and clean clothing. Bedsores that are left untreated are a red flag. Seniors may not have access to medical aids like their glasses, hearing aids, medications or wheelchair.

If you suspect abuse or negligence, contact the elder abuse lawyers of Garcia & Artigliere immediately by calling (800) 328-2630. It’s important to stop abuse or negligence in its tracks rather than allow the behavior to get worse. Trust your gut and submit concerns, even if you’re not 100 percent sure that elder abuse is happening. Submit your concerns for a free case review here.


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