We All Need to Know the Signs of Elder Abuse

Author: Emma Dickison

Most of us have no tolerance for any type of abuse, especially to those who aren’t able to defend themselves. Each year, it’s estimated that five million seniors – that’s 5,000,000 people aged 65+ – are abused physically or taken advantage of financially. Even sadder is the fact that only 1-in-5 of these crimes of abuse are discovered.

Owners, staff, Caregivers and everyone associated with Home Helpers® Home Care joins all people of good faith in working to end elder abuse. Our senior citizens have worked to improve their community, raise families and contribute to society. Now, when they should be enjoying their golden years, it’s up to the rest of us to make sure they live safely and securely.

Debra Kostiw is the owner of Home Helpers of Rochester (New York). I know Deb and she is a true professional and dedicated to her work. She has made Alzheimer’s and dementia care a special focus of her work, although her office offers other caregiving services, too.

But even with that background, Debra had an abuse situation affect her own family. To make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to another family, Debra has not only made the brave decision to share her story, but she’s also developed a list of signs to look for that a senior is suffering some type of abuse.

“The person who’s being abused is going to give subtle hints that there’s something going on,” said Debra. “It’s really important that we listen for those hints, whether you’re a family member, neighbor or friend.”

As for why a person suffering abuse might not come straight out and tell someone, there are a number of potential reasons, including the following:

  • Fear of retaliation
  • Abuser is a family member
  • Afraid to be sent to a nursing home
  • Not able due to dementia or other illness
  • Shame and embarrassment
  • Who will take care of me?

Debra’s first tip is simple but not always easy for people to do – listen. And ask the senior if they think they’re being heard. Phrases such as “he flies off the handle,” or “she’s always yelling” are an opportunity to follow up and ask questions. Responses can include the following:

  • How do you feel when this happens?
  • Are there times you believe you’re being taken advantage of?
  • Are all of your needs being met; if not, what is lacking?

Other things to look for besides obvious physical indications of abuse, such as bruising, repeated injuries or neglect, might include signs such as the following:

  • Change in mood or behavior
  • Afraid to speak in the presence of certain people (potential abuser)
  • Denying or minimizing a situation
  • Providing inconsistent explanations for these changes

If you suspect abuse, it’s important to always maintain the safety of the senior first. If you believe they are in immediate danger, you can call 911. Otherwise you can refer the case to a local Adult Protective Services agency and ask them to investigate.

I am so grateful to Debra for sharing her experience and expertise. By showing others how to recognize symptoms of abuse, her efforts will pay off with every elderly person who is taken out of an abusive situation. It saddens me that for every case of elder abuse that is reported, it’s suspected that another 24 go unreported.

Please be sure to keep an eye out for that senior neighbor, or give an elderly relative a call and let them know you’re thinking about them. Today is a good day to start, but make it a habit and let’s all work to keep our older friends top of mind.

Remember, if you ever suspect abuse, call your local Adult Protective Services office. They’re experienced and know how to help.




Home Helpers® Cared-4 program covers every need to keep someone independent and comfortable at home. Our services include Personal Care & Companionship, Nutrition and Well-Being, Safety and 24-Hour Monitoring and Wellness Calls.

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