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6 Signs of Elder Abuse and What to Do Next

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It’s a grim reality: As many as 1 in 10 elders have experienced some form of abuse.

Yet, it often goes undetected or, worse, unreported due to victims’ inability to protect themselves or fear of retribution. This is especially true in the case of older adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia who cannot adequately communicate what’s happening to them. The signs of elder abuse can be subtle, but it’s important to recognize when your loved one may be in harm’s way. If you notice any of these signs of elder abuse, contact an elder abuse attorney immediately.

Recognizing Physical Indicators of Harm

Physical abuse is shockingly common, particularly in care facilities like assisted living or nursing homes. Some signs of physical abuse, like bruises, lacerations, and broken bones, are more overt. However, there are subtle factors that can indicate the presence of abuse, such as unusual weight loss, changes in mood, or unexplained depression. Unexplained or poorly explained injuries warrant extra scrutiny and may necessitate the intervention of an elder abuse attorney.

Sign 1: Unexplained Injuries or Marks

Physical maltreatment can manifest as bruises, lacerations, or other wounds that do not match the explanations given. For example, if your loved one has a large bruise and you’re told that they fell, but your loved one is not ambulatory, this could indicate abuse or mistreatment by care staff.  When recurring injuries appear that nursing staff either can’t or won’t explain, these discrepancies raise a red flag. Upon noticing signs of unexplained injuries, it is crucial to document them, escalate your concerns with a formal report, and seek a professional evaluation for the safety and justice of the elder in question.

Sign 2: Sudden Changes in Physical Appearance

If you notice changes in your loved ones’ grooming, hygiene, or personal appearance, they may be experiencing abuse. Often, this can indicate that they’re not receiving enough assistance with everyday tasks like bathing, toileting, and feeding. Sometimes, poor hygiene is a deliberate tactic employed by abusers to control or demean the victim. In either case, an abrupt decline in one’s physical condition should be diligently queried.

Abrupt weight loss should also trigger concern – it could point to emotional distress or neglect. Unkempt hair, dirty clothes, or broken eyeglasses shouldn’t be ignored. They can be indicators of abuse or neglect scenarios that require prompt intervention.

Psychological and Emotional Red Flags

Behavioral cues such as increased agitation, fearfulness around specific individuals, or unexplained confusion beyond typical age-related changes can also herald psychological harm. In these instances, it is imperative to engage in gentle dialogue with the elder or to seek professional evaluations to uncover potential abuse and ensure the emotional well-being of the individual is protected.

Sign 3: Unusual Behavioral Shifts

Changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, or personal hygiene can result from abuse. 

Additionally, elders experiencing abuse may exhibit erratic behavior, such as mumbling or talking to oneself, emotional outbursts, or an unusual level of passivity. If their regular character seems altered to the extent that it raises concerns, it is crucial to investigate further.

The emergence of fearfulness, hesitancy to speak, or reluctance to engage with particular individuals can be a particularly troubling signal that could mean that they’ve been subjected to coercion or intimidation to hide their abuse.

Sign 4: Fear or Avoidance of a Specific Individual

An unmistakable red flag is when an elder exhibits a palpable fear or consistently tries to avoid a particular individual. Often, this behavior is rooted in an ongoing pattern of abuse or intimidation by the perpetrator, which causes the elder to experience a range of emotions from apprehension to outright terror. This individual could be a caretaker, family member, or a fellow long-term care facility resident. Monitoring interactions and inquiring discreetly can provide insight into the nature of their relationship.

It’s essential to recognize that fear may manifest in subtle cues. A flinch at mentioning a name, lowered gaze, or withdrawal from otherwise enjoyed activities can indicate a troubling dynamic. Moreover, a consistent refusal to attend certain events or appointments where the individual’s presence is likely may warrant further examination.

Financial Exploitation Clues

Unexplained withdrawals, sudden changes in banking practices, or uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money can signal financial exploitation. New, unfamiliar individuals may be involved with the elder’s financial matters, perhaps even exerting undue influence or pressure. Reviewing bank statements and documents for discrepancies and staying informed about the elder’s financial situation is critical in identifying potential exploitation.

If you detect irregularities in financial transactions or observe abrupt alterations in estate documents, it is crucial to consult an elder abuse lawyer.

Sign 5: Sudden Asset Transfers or Withdrawals

Financial exploitation is another common abuse tactic. Sudden, large withdrawals or transfers from an elder’s accounts are red flags, possibly indicating exploitation or theft. A perpetrator may manipulate an elder into making these transactions, often under the guise of emergencies or unpaid debts. It is also critical to watch for new and revised documents that might signal asset reallocation without the elder’s understanding or consent.

Sign 6: Altered Will or Power of Attorney

Newly created or altered powers of attorney, wills, and trusts under suspicious circumstances demand immediate attention. These changes can include:

  1. Unexpected Revisions: The elderly individual’s will or power of attorney has unexpected amendments or beneficiaries.
  2. Lack of Transparency: Changes occur without informing close family members, or the elder is unaware of such modifications.
  3. Unusual Relationships: A new individual is suddenly involved with the elder’s affairs, coinciding with legal changes.
  4. Pressure or Coercion: There are reports or suspicions of the elder being pressured to make changes against their true wishes.
  5. Discrepancies in Signature: Signatures on recently altered documents must be more consistent with the elder’s established signature style.
  6. Isolation from Advisors: The elder is isolated from long-term legal or financial advisors, often coinciding with introducing a new advisor.


A careful review of these documents by a trusted legal professional is critical. In such delicate matters, seeking guidance from a skilled elder abuse lawyer is paramount to protect the elder’s assets and autonomy.


Reporting and Addressing Abuse

An elder abuse lawyer can provide comprehensive assistance in navigating the complexities of legal intervention, ensuring the victim’s rights and well-being are paramount. Early reporting bolsters the potential for effective investigation and the timely implementation of protective measures.

Steps to Report Suspected Mistreatment

Firstly, identify the signs of abuse, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial, and document every indicator meticulously. Report your concerns immediately to local adult protective services (APS), providing detailed observations and any evidence of maltreatment.

Contact the police if you suspect a crime has been committed. In cases of immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 911.

Next, seek the guidance of an experienced elder abuse lawyer. They can advise on legal remedies and provide representation. They can also help initiate civil proceedings or work with prosecutors if criminal charges are applicable.

For financial exploitation, report to the relevant financial institution and consider alerting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). If necessary, freeze the elder’s accounts to prevent further unauthorized transactions. Additional reporting channels include ombudsman programs for instances occurring within care facilities and state licensing boards for professional misconduct. Engaging an elder abuse lawyer early on clarifies the most effective reporting path.

Consulting P&P Firm - Expert Elder Abuse Lawyers

If you suspect elder abuse, immediate consultation with P&P Firm can provide crucial legal support. Our team offers experience, compassion, and a vigorous pursuit of justice for the victimized elder. Legal strategies may vary, but P&P Firm consistently delivers expert counsel tailored to each unique situation. Contact us for a free case evaluation.