Elder Abuse Signs & Symptoms

Updated November 22, 2016

According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA), elder abuse is the mistreatment of an older person that results in harm or loss. Types of elder abuse include physical, sexual, psychological, financial, domestic violence and neglect. NCPEA estimates that between four to six per cent of the elderly population in the United States is abused.

Warning Signs

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) points out that the presence of warning signs does not automatically indicate elder abuse, but the following signs and symptoms are common in elder abuse cases. Physical abuse or neglect is often identified by the presence of bruises, abrasions, burns or broken bones. The onset of depression and an abrupt change in alertness sometimes indicates emotional abuse. Bed sores, poor hygiene and unexplained weight loss are potential signs of neglect, which often occurs in nursing homes. Indicators of sexual abuse include bruises around the breasts or genital area. The NCEA notes that a sudden change in an older person's financial situation can be a sign that they are being financially exploited.


The NCEA advises that mental impairment, often in the form of dementia or Alzheimer's disease, can make an elderly person more vulnerable to elder abuse. A history of domestic violence that carries into old age is another risk factor, as many elder abusers are spouses. The NCEA claims that both being in social isolation and being with others can make an elder more vulnerable to abuse. Often, the presence of a spouse or other person creates more opportunities for elder abuse. In turn, the abuser might choose to isolate the victim from the outside to cover up the abuse, hypothesises the NCEA.


Illness or injury is often caused by self-inflicted elder abuse, known as self-neglect. Signs and symptoms of this form of elder abuse include hoarding, failure to take medications, refusal to seek treatment for serious illness, poor hygiene, confusion, inability to maintain housekeeping duties and dehydration. Drug or alcohol addiction often play a role in self-neglect. NCEA claims that most reports to adult protective services result in the discovery of self-neglect.

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About the Author

As a writer since 2002, Rocco Pendola has published numerous academic and popular articles in addition to working as a freelance grant writer and researcher. His work has appeared on SFGate and Planetizen and in the journals "Environment & Behavior" and "Health and Place." Pendola has a Bachelor of Arts in urban studies from San Francisco State University.