Signs of abuse

While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, signs that there may be a problem include the following:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness or unexpected depression may be an indicator of emotional abuse.
  • Unexplained physical injuries.
  • Dehydration or lack of food.
  • Over-sedation.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area may be a sign of sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss may indicate neglect.
  • Belittling, threats or other uses of power by spouses, family members or others may indicate verbal or emotional abuse.

Strained or tense relationships and frequent arguments between the caregiver and person with disease may be a sign of abuse. Abuse may originate from either a caregiver or a person with dementia. A person with dementia may exhibit more aggressive behaviors as the disease progresses and cognitive function and ability to reason decline. No one should live in threat of harm or danger to themselves or others.

What are the signs and symptoms of elder abuse?

Victims of elder abuse may show signs of any of the following symptoms:

There are other signs of elder abuse. For example, if money or personal items such as eyeglasses, jewelry, hearing aids, or dentures are missing without explanation, it may be because of elder abuse.

No one should jump to conclusions, but signs and symptoms should be taken seriously. What sometimes seems like self neglect might turn out to be elder abuse.

Elder abuse happens because of the abuser’s power and control over an older person. In some cases, it may also be linked to an abuser’s:

  • drug or alcohol problem,
  • history of anti-social behavior, or
  • Mental health problems.

Abuse is more likely to happen when the family is going through a period of high stress, including the stress of looking after the older person.

The abuser may not allow people to visit or talk to the older person. The older person may be isolated from the community, social services, and even from other family members.

In some cases, the elder abuse may be part of a cycle of violence in the family. The person who abuses an elderly parent might have been abused by that parent. The elder abuse could be a form of “getting even” with the parent for past wrongs.

A staff member in a long-term care home might abuse residents physically or mentally. Abusers may be frustrated staff members who are not able to do their jobs properly. This can be because of poor training, low pay, over-work, or under‑staffing. Staff could also have personal problems that affect the way they provide services to older people under their care.

There is no excuse for abuse. The personal circumstances or problems of the caregiver do not excuse abuse of the older person. These problems may be factors in the abuse, but they do not justify it.