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Spotting the Warning Signs of Elder Abuse & Neglect

January 7th, 2021

An increasing number of older adults are abused in their own homes, in the homes of relatives and in facilities responsible for their care. According to the National Council of Aging, there are as many as 5 million victims of elder abuse each year. Even worse, one study found that only 1 in 14 elder abuse cases are reported to authorities.

While elder abuse can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, neglect and more, many signs of mistreatment can be difficult to spot. In some cases, the only people in a position to help are those responsible for perpetuating the abuse, including professional caregivers, friends or even close family.

Learn from the nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys at Dale E. Anstine how to spot the warning signs of elder abuse and how to report the problem.

Physical Abuse

Defined as the intentional use of force that results in pain, injury or impairment, physical abuse is the most easily identifiable form of elder abuse.

Signs of physical abuse may include, but are not limited to:

  • Bruising, lacerations, punctures or welts. The presence of bruises in various stages of healing may indicate long-term abuse.
  • Broken bones
  • Burn marks
  • Recurring or unexplained injuries
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Distrust or fearfulness of caregivers
  • Unexplainable agitation, withdrawal or depression

Emotional Abuse

The intentional infliction of anguish, pain or distress, emotional abuse can be either verbal or non-verbal. The victim can suffer insults, threats, intimidation or harassment.

Classic symptoms of emotional or psychological abuse may include, but are not limited to:

  • Withdrawal from social situations or apathy
  • Fearful behavior in the presence of one or more individuals
  • Regressing into childlike behavior, such as biting, incessant rocking, and sucking a thumb or finger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Depressive behavior

Financial Exploitation

Elder financial abuse or exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an elderly person’s financial assets. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, financial exploitation of the elderly is one of the mostly frequently reported forms of elder abuse.

Symptoms of financial abuse of the elderly can include, but are not limited to:

  • Unknown or suspicious signatories on accounts
  • Unexplainable recently signed legal or financial documents
  • Personal property gone or missing
  • Increased suspiciousness and distrust of others. Unusual bank account activity.
  • Disputes regarding future inheritance


Neglect is defined as a caregiver’s failure to provide an elder with everyday necessities, which can include food, hygiene care and medical care.

Symptoms of neglect of the elderly can include, but are not limited to:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Unclean living conditions
  • Bedsores
  • Unusual weight loss/malnutrition
  • Unattended medical needs

What to Do If You Suspect Abuse?

If you suspect elder abuse or neglect, there are several steps you can take to ensure your report is carefully considered and properly investigated.

Step #1: Document

Document anything that seems out of the ordinary, including changes in behavior and unexplained or recurring bruising. Write out detailed descriptions and take photographs of the injuries. If possible, obtain written statements from the victim and any witnesses.

Step #2: Report

If you believe an individual may be in severe danger, call 911 immediately. An additional way to report elder abuse is to file a complaint with the state. Suspected abuse in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania are investigated by the state’s Ombudsman Program,  which “is designed to support and empower consumers by resolving individual complaints involving long-term care service while working to improve and enhance the long-term living systems for the residents and their families.”

Step #3: Seek Legal Advice

Contact one of our nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys who have a full understanding of elder care law. We will help explain nursing care resident rights, help file nurse home claims and advise you on the best course of action for your case.

If you suspect a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse, we’re here to help. Contact one of our specialized attorneys who have a full understanding of elder care law. With offices in York and Gettysburg, our team is proud to protect the injured across the Central Pennsylvania community. Consultations are always FREE, we’re available 24/7 – and there’s no fee unless we win for you.