Elder abuse: Combating injustice

by Annie Walters
Social Security Public Affairs
Specialist in Nevada

Elder abuse is the intentional mistreatment or harming of an older person. An older person is defined by the Social Security Act as someone over age 60. This abuse takes many forms – including physical, emotional, and sexual harm, neglect, and financial exploitation. More than 1 in 10 older adults experience some form of abuse each year. That number is likely much higher because elder abuse is often underreported– especially in underserved communities.

Abuse victims typically show emotional and behavioral red flags, such as depression, unusual fear or anxiety, or intentional isolation. Many victims are abused by someone they know or trust. It’s important to look for unusual changes in behavior around:

  • Family members.
  • Staff at inpatient facilities.
  • Hired or volunteer caregivers.
  • People in positions of trust like doctors or financial advisors.

You can also help make a difference by checking in with older loved ones. Looking for warning signs of mistreatment is the first step to preventing abuse. Signs of physical abuse include bruises, burns, or other unexplained injuries.

There may also be signs of neglect like:

  • Poor nutrition or hygiene.
  • Lack of necessary medical aids like glasses or medications that a caretaker should be providing.

There may also be indications of financial abuse. These may include:

  • Unpaid rent.
  • Sudden changes to a will.
  • Unusual changes in money management.
  • Large, unexplained financial transactions.
  • Mortgages despite sufficient financial resources.
  • Allowing someone new to access bank accounts.

If you suspect that someone is a victim of elder abuse, don’t ignore it! If you or someone you care about is in a life-threatening situation, call 911. If you suspect that something isn’t right – but nobody seems to be in immediate danger – contact:

You can also find additional local resources by searching the Eldercare Locator for your community at eldercare.acl.gov/Public/index.aspx.

Take some time to call or visit with an older adult. Ask if they are okay and listen to what they tell you. Pay attention to signs of abuse or unusual behavior. Most of all, don’t be afraid to report instances of suspected abuse. Please share this information with those who need it.



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