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Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Recognize and Stop Elder Abuse in the COVID Era

Can you write a column on how to recognize elder abuse and what to do if you suspect it?

According to the National Council on Aging, as many as five million seniors are victims of abuse each year, but studies suggest this crime is significantly under-reported. Only 1-in-14 cases of elder abuse get reported to the authorities because victims are usually too afraid, too embarrassed, too helpless or too trusting to call for help.

The term "elder abuse" is defined as intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes or can cause harm to a vulnerable senior. Elder abuse also comes in many different forms: emotional, psychological, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect (or self-neglect) and financial exploitation.

Those most vulnerable are seniors who are ill, frail, disabled, socially isolated or mentally impaired due to dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

It is also important to know that while elder abuse does happen in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the vast majority of incidents take place at home where the individual lives. And tragically, the abusers are most often their own family members (usually the victim's adult child or spouse) or caregiver.

How to Recognize Abuse

So, how can you tell if an elderly relative or friend is being abused and what can you do to help?

A change in general behavior is a universal warning sign that a problem exists. If you notice that your relative or friend has become very depressed, withdrawn or gets upset or agitated easily, you need to start asking questions. Here are some additional warning signs for different types of elder abuse:
  • Physical or sexual abuse: Suspicious bruises or other injuries that cannot be explained, sudden changes in behavior (upset, withdrawn, fearful), broken eyeglasses, or a caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see an elder alone.
  • Neglect or self-neglect: Weight loss, poor hygiene, unattended medical needs and unsanitary or unsafe living conditions.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: The individual is extremely upset, agitated, withdrawn, unresponsive, fearful, depressed or demonstrates some other unusual behavior.
  • Financial exploitation: There is missing money or valuables, unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts, unauthorized use of credit, debit or ATM cards, unpaid bills despite available funds, checks written as a loan or gift or abrupt changes in a will or other documents.

For more tips on how to recognize the warning signs of abuse during the pandemic, see the National Center on Elder Abuse website at

What to Do

The best ways to help stop elder abuse is to be in touch and keep the lines of communication open. If you suspect any type of abuse or neglect in your relative's or friend's home, report it to your local protective services agency.

Adult Protective Services is the government agency responsible for investigating elder abuse cases and providing help and guidance. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get the agency contact number in your area or visit

The agency will ask what you observed, who was involved and who they can contact to learn more. You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring; that is up to the agency.

To report suspected abuse in a nursing home or assisted living facility, call the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman – see for contact information.

If you feel the person is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for immediate help.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published October 2, 2020
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