Elder Abuse and Nursing Home Injuries FAQ

Answers to common questions about elder and nursing home abuse, and how to get help.

What is elder abuse?
How widespread is the problem?
What are the different types of elder abuse?
What are the warning signs of elder abuse?
What types of people typically abuse the elderly?
Where do I report a suspected case of elder abuse?
How can the authorities help?

What is elder abuse?

The Administration on Aging, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, defines elder abuse as, “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.” Elder abuse can occur in nursing homes setting and in other treatment settings. Learn more about Nursing Home Injuries and Abuse.

How widespread is the problem?

According to the United States Department of Justice, approximately 11% of all elder persons are abused each year. In the United States there are more than 40 million persons age 65 or older, meaning that at least 4 million elderly persons are abused each year in the U.S.

What are the different types of elder abuse?

The National Center on Elder Abuse defines seven (7) general categories into which most cases of elder abuse fall:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Financial exploitation
  • Self-neglect

Learn more about Common Types of Nursing Home Abuse.

What are the warning signs of elder abuse?

Every situation is different, but here are a few things to look for:

  • Physical abuse: unexplained injuries such as bruises or broken bones; burns; frequent use of medical providers.
  • Emotional abuse: fearful behavior; anxiety; severe and unexplained changes in moods or personality; fear of interacting with nursing home staff or care givers; refusal to see family members or close friends; withdrawal from social support system; hesitation to talk openly.
  • Sexual abuse: development of sexually transmitted diseases; genital or anal pain, injury or bleeding.
  • Neglect: malnourishment; lack of basic necessities such as food, water, poor hygiene, shelter; bedsores or skin ulcers; medical needs not attended to; unpaid bills.
  • Abandonment: unsanitary or unclean living conditions; soiled bedding or clothing; lack of proper medical treatment.
  • Financial exploitation: discrepancies between the person’s standard of living and available assets; unexplained depletion of assets; unexplained financial transactions; missing personal property items; sudden and unexplained changes in living arrangements, such as a new location or new roommate.
  • Self-neglect: this results where the elder person refuses care, and the symptoms can take on one or any combination of the other symptoms described above.

What types of people typically abuse the elderly?

According to the National Council on Aging, most incidents of elder abuse are committed by someone who is known to the victim. 90% of people who commit elder abuse are family members, and two-thirds are adult children or spouses.

Where do I report a suspected case of elder abuse?

If you suspect that abuse is occurring, start by contacting:

  • emergency Services (911) such as local law enforcement or ambulance/paramedics
  • Adult Protective Services (APS)
  • long-term care ombudsmen (more information: The National Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Resource Center)
  • treating physicians or medical providers, and
  • a local attorney.

How can the authorities help?

The circumstances of each individual situation will dictate the appropriate response. If the victim is in imminent physical danger, or is at immediate health risk, the local police or responding paramedics may remove the victim from the scene to be transported to a safe location or healthcare facility. If a crime has been committed, the police will conduct an investigation and refer the complaint to the judicial system.

If the threat of harm or abuse is less imminent, procedures vary from state to state. Generally, however, the state’s office of Adult Protective Services will be charged with investigating the complaint and assessing the danger. APS will then enlist partner social services to address the health and safety concerns for the victim.

In any situation where an instance of elder abuse is suspected, it is always recommended that you consult with a lawyer licensed to practice law in your state. The lawyer can identify the appropriate response in a non-emergency situation, and will ensure that the elder person's well-being and legal rights are protected.

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