You’ve noticed your dad acting a little different than usual lately. You’re worried it may have something to do with his new caregiver. You know elder abuse exists, but what types of abuse are there? And how would you know if it was taking place? Here we’ve gathered a list of common signs and perpetrators of each type of elder abuse.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine1, there are a number of risk factors which increase the likelihood of elder abuse in a situation. Most studies indicate that women are more likely to be victims of elder abuse than men. Among elderly individuals, those who live with a spouse or adult children are often more likely to experience abuse, as these are the two most likely abusers. Another risk factor is a shared living environment. Elders living with a large number of household members are at an increased risk of abuse, especially financial and physical abuse. Those with a lower income level are also associated with a higher risk of financial, emotional, and physical abuse.
Dementia is one of the greatest risk factors in elder abuse. This is especially true in cases of financial and physical elder abuse. A consistent result of studies finds that physical violence rates are 3 to 5 times higher among dementia care recipients than the general population2. Elders with functional impairment and poor physical health have also consistently been shown to have a greater risk of abuse.
The true prevalence of elder abuse cannot be specified, due to under reporting. However, the three most recent large-scale studies have found rates in the range of 7-11% in the population of 60 and older2. A prevalence of 10% is the equivalent of approximately 5,600,000 elder abuse victims age 60 and older nationwide.
This type of abuse is physical force that results in bodily injury, pain, or impairment. This includes acts of assault, battery, and inappropriate restraint. Physical abuse is generally perpetrated by acquaintances, children, and grandchildren.
- Broken bones
- Burns from cigarettes
- Rope or strap marks
- Injuries are unexplained or implausible
- Family members provide different explanations
- History of similar injuries
- Delay between injury and seeking medical care
This type of abuse includes non-consensual sexual contact of any kind. Sexual abuse is generally perpetrated by caregivers, employees of care facilities, and family members.
- Genital pain or irritation
- Bruising on inner thighs
- Difficulty sitting or walking
- Torn underclothing
- Inappropriate, unusual, or aggressive sexual behavior
- Inappropriate relationship between elder and perpetrator
This type of abuse is the intentional infliction of emotional or mental anguish through verbal or nonverbal actions. Psychological abuse can include threats or humiliation. Perpetrators of psychological abuse generally include family members, caregivers, and acquaintances.
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Elevated blood pressure
- Stress-related conditions
- Problems sleeping
- Emotionally withdrawn
This type of abuse is the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or other resources. Financial abuse can include taking money or property, forging a signature, scams, fraud, and forced signing of a document the elder does not understand. Past studies have shown that financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse in the United States, with rates several times that of physical elder abuse2. Perpetrators of financial abuse generally include children, grandchildren, spouses, caregivers, and predatory individuals claiming love for the elder.
- Unpaid bills
- Large withdrawals or transfers
- New “best friends” or “lovers”
- Suspicious signatures on checks or documents
- Missing belongings
- Implausible explanations about finances
- Differing explanations about finances from elder and perpetrator
- Unawareness pertaining to finances
This type of abuse is failure by a caregiver to uphold their responsibilities. Neglect can be active or passive. Active neglect is intentionally withholding care or necessities, while passive neglect is the unintentional inability to provide care. Neglect is generally perpetrated by paid caregivers, family members, and employees of care facilities.
- Absence of food or water
- Lack of utilities
- Animal or insect infestation
- Empty or outdated prescription bottles
- Inadequate cleanliness
- Physical barriers in pathways
- Poor personal hygiene
- Improperly clothed for weather
- Skin rashes
Behavior of Perpetrator
- Anger or exhaustion
- Isolates elder from outside world
- Lacks caregiving skill
Behavior of Elder
- Emotional distress
- Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
- Sudden loss of appetite
- Self-destructive behavior
It is important to remember that each individual reacts differently to situations and signs of abuse may invest differently in your dad’s situation. Any sudden or unusual changes in behavior should be taken into consideration and investigated to rule out elder abuse as a cause.
1Campion, E., Lachs, M., & Pillemer, K. (2015). Elder abuse. The New England Journal of Medicine, 373(20), 1947-1956.
2Pillemer, K., Connolly, M.T., Breckman, R., Spreng, N., & Lachs, M. (2014). Elder mistreatment: Priorities for consideration by the White House Conference on Aging. The Gerontologist, 55(2), 320-327.