It may be difficult for any one of us to imagine senior citizens being subjected to abuse, but it's happening at an alarming rate. Elder abuse is usually perpetrated by someone the senior knows and trusts and is dependent on for care. Sadly, abusers often are family members.

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder Abuse refers to any knowing, intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm to a senior. Simply put: it's the mistreatment or neglect of a person 60 years of age or older, and its against the law.

Various psychological, social and economic factors, as well as the mental and physical health of both the victim and the perpetrator, combine to make elder abuse a complex problem that often goes unreported.

Types of Abuse

  • Physical abuse-inflicting or threatening to inflict physical pain or injury on an elder or depriving them of a basic need
  • Emotional abuse - inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress on an elder person through verbal or non-verbal acts
  • Sexual abuse-non-consensual sexual contact of any kind
  • Financial exploitation - illegal taking, misuse or concealment of funds, property or assets
  • Neglect - refusal or failure by a caregiver to provide food, shelter, health care or protection
  • Abandonment-desertion by a caregiver
  • Self neglect - One of the most reported kinds of elder abuse occurs when a person lives alone and doesn't properly take care of him/herself. There are often added problems of declining health isolation, Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or drug and alcohol dependency.

Warning Signs of Abuse

Signs and symptoms of elder abuse may be difficult to detect, as the abuse may be subtle or intentionally hidden. While one sign alone may not indicate abuse, any of these factors may signal that there is a problem:

  1. Unexplained burns, welts, cuts or fractures
  2. Injuries to the head or scalp
  3. Extreme changes in mood
  4. Withdrawal from normal activities, unusual depression, change in alertness
  5. Unexplained fear or secretiveness
  6. Tension, strained relationships, frequent arguments between an elder and a caregiver
  7. Bruises on the upper arms, around the wrists and ankles, inside the thigh or arms-particularly in shapes similar to objects
  8. Bruising around the breast or genital area
  9. Sudden changes in finances
  10. Signing papers they don't understand
  11. Giving away money or possessions
  12. Poor hygiene, dehydration, or malnourishment
  13. Bedsores, unattended medical needs, overly-sedated appearance

If you, or a senior you know, is being abused or may be in danger of being abused or is being victimized or exploited in any way, taken action. Don't be afraid to speak up because without intervention the abuse may escalate. Remember, we all have the right to live free from abuse and neglect.

Who Can Report Abuse?

Anyone can report abuse.

The law in Massachusetts requires certain helping professionals to report elder abuse. Senior providers, nurses, doctors, social workers, police and public safety officials are mandated to report suspected abuse or neglect, but anyone who suspects an elderly person may be suffering should report their concerns.

Unfortunately, elder abuse often goes unreported. Seniors themselves may feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit that they have a problem and need help. They may be reluctant to speak up because they could be dependent on the person who is the source of the abuse. They may also be fearful of retaliation from a caregiver. Friends or acquaintances may suspect there is a problem but do not want to interfere in someone else's personal, family or business matters.

Seniors, caregivers, friends and family may also be unaware of sources of assistance available to seniors.

Each of us has the responsibility to keep our seniors safe from harm. If you suspect abuse is or has been happening to a senior, report it by calling the numbers listed on the Help and Resources page.

If the situation is an emergency call 911.