Elder Abuse and Older Adult Protective Services

Abuse can happen to anyone, no matter what their age. Hundreds of thousands of older people are abused each year. This is called elder abuse.1

Knowing the signs of elder abuse can help you become more aware of a potentially dangerous situation and how you can help.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is abuse, neglect, or exploitation that happens to those over the age of 60. There are different kinds of abuse, including:1

  • Physical – Causing bodily harm by hitting, pushing, slapping, restraining against one's will;
  • Emotional – Yelling, threatening, calling names or being hurtful, ignoring;
  • Neglect – When the caregiver does not respond or meet the person's needs, ie. healthcare access, medicine, withholding food;
  • Abandonment – Leaving an older adult who needs help alone without care plans;
  • Sexual abuse – Forcing them to perform sexual acts;
  • Financial abuse – Money or valuables are stolen, ie. forging checks, taking Social Security benefits, changing names on insurance policies.

Identifying elder abuse

You may not always know what to look for, especially if the abuse is not physical. Some signs of elder abuse can include:1,2

  • They stop doing activities they previously enjoyed
  • They have trouble sleeping
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • They look messy or unkempt
  • Showing trauma symptoms
  • Wearing dirty or torn clothing
  • Unexplained burns appear on their skin
  • Family and friends cannot reach them for periods of time
  • They withdraw or become agitated or violent
  • There are unexplained cuts or bruises
  • Bed sores or other preventable conditions
  • Past due bills or notices start piling up
  • They do not have medical aids like hearing aids, glasses, or dentures
  • Unclean or unsafe living conditions

Navigating situations of elder abuse

If you think there is elder abuse happening, ask the person. When the 2 of you are alone, share your concerns and ask if they are okay. You can offer to help them or take them to get help.

If the person is not able to answer your questions, you should report what you see to the proper authorities. This may happen if the person has Alzheimer's, dementia, or other disabilities.

There are also local, state, and national social service agencies that can help with elder abuse of all kinds. The Eldercare Locator can help connect you to services for older adults to help them. Depending on the state you are in, you may be required by law to report signs of elder abuse.

If you see a situation that is life-threatening, call 9-1-1 right away.

What does older adult protective services do?

Adult Protective Services (APS) is a program run by state or local governments. They serve older adults or those with disabilities who need help. They look at cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation, and work with doctors, medical professionals, and police.2

When a report is made to APS, the report is evaluated to see if it needs to be explored. If it meets the criteria for abuse, neglect, or exploitation, the agency will meet with the older person. They will then assess the situation and determine what services are necessary.2

Services may involve:

  • Going to court;
  • Getting appropriate care from competent providers;
  • Filing restraining orders;
  • Anything else the older adult and their families might need<./li>

The goal of APS is to preserve the older person's independence as much as possible while keeping them safe. However, the older person has the right to refuse any services or help offered if they are capable of making independent decisions.3

Elder abuse does not stop on its own. It is important to report even possible cases of elder abuse. You do not have to prove the abuse is happening; this will be investigated by professionals.

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Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: September 2021