How to Spot the Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

June 13, 2019

Though it’s hard to think about, our older generations are often the most vulnerable. Many are put into the care of others whose job it is to take care of them when family and friends may no longer be able to.

A sad fact is that many older adults suffer abuse at the hands of those that care for them. This is backed up by the thousands of search results you can find by simply typing a simple search for “elder abuse” into Google. It’s an unfortunate reality that leaves many wondering how these situations still occur.

Abuse can be a very traumatic situation, and as a victim, it can be challenging to vocalize what is happening to you. Often elders may not even realize they are the victims of abuse because even they don’t fully know how to spot the signs.

But by understanding the changes that may come over your loved one if you suspect elder abuse, you can hopefully catch and stop it from progressing into even more dangerous territory. Below are just a few of the reasons you may need to think twice about the care your loved one is receiving.

Financial Discrepancies

Though it’s great to ensure the independence of your loved one, it’s always a good idea to go over their financials with them every so often so you can make sure nothing is amiss. If you start noticing that your loved one's bank account is showing discrepancies, this is a definite warning sign that someone may be taking advantage of them financially. Critical warnings of financial abuse to the elderly may include:

  • High sums of cash withdrawals or transfers outside of their account

  • Purchases that are outside of their usual spending habits

  • Requests from your loved one for financial assistance

  • Payments made to a caregiver with a higher value than initially agreed upon

Change in Hygiene

Though it is an unfortunate fact that many nursing homes are understaffed, most care providers do everything they can despite the circumstances. But in some cases, care providers subject elders to neglect and lack of care regardless of the staffing issues. This could mean anything from being left alone for extended periods to directly neglecting physical care.

When visiting your loved one, be sure to take note of any differences in their appearance or the conditions in which they live. Signs that show their hygiene may not be a top priority can include:

  • Lack of primary care such as baths, hair care, dental care, and others

  • Symptoms of dehydration or hunger

  • Strong body odour, stains, or unclean clothes

  • Unkept beds where linens may not have been changed regularly

Change in Demeanor

Though abuse is usually attributed to physical harm, it can also be represented psychologically as well. Psychological maltreatment can prevent your loved one from speaking up or reporting the abuse due to fear or coercion. Every reaction and emotion looks different for each person, but any extreme changes can be a warning sign of elder abuse. It’s essential to check any radical change in their emotions, such as:

  • Sudden and constant feeling of panic

  • Depression and extreme avoidance of seeing family members

  • Seclusion from others or lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy

  • Fear of being left alone

Physical Changes

Despite all the other warning signs mentioned above, the most apparent sign of elder abuse is changes made to their body itself. If you notice marks on their body, it’s essential to ask them how they received it. Although they might not admit to it being from their caregiver, it’s necessary to look for consistent changes on their body. Physical symptoms of abuse could look like:

  • Cuts, bruises, or scrapes on the skin

  • Patches of missing hair

  • Tenderness in some regions of their body

  • Sudden limping or mobility issues


Though many factors may come into why you chose a certain nursing home, retirement home, or care provider, it’s important to pick the right caregiver for your loved one. Their safety should always be a top priority. At the end of the day, if your gut feeling is telling you something is off, you’re more than likely right and should take action to protect the one you love.

If you need help, please remove your loved one from the care of that facility or person caregiver and contact the police or a local adult protection services program to report the abuse as soon as possible.