6 Signs of Elder Abuse in Seniors with Dementia

signs of elder abuse

Seniors with dementia are more vulnerable to abuse

Seniors with dementia sometimes make false accusations and claim that family or caregivers are mistreating them or stealing from them. In these cases, the dementia is making them paranoid and delusional.

Unfortunately, there are also times when seniors with dementia are being abused. People with dementia are especially vulnerable to abuse because of their impaired memory, communication skills, and judgment.

Unscrupulous people take advantage of these vulnerable seniors because they’re easy targets. They’re not likely to report the problem, they might not be believed, or they might not be aware that abuse is happening.

To protect your older adult, we explain how to spot warning signs of elder abuse across the 6 types of abuse.

Even if your older adult doesn’t recognize what’s happening or can’t speak for themselves, you’ll know when something suspicious is going on. We also share recommendations on organizations you can contact for help.



6 warning signs of elder abuse

Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that causes harm or loss to an older adult. It’s generally divided into 6 categories. In each category, we share the red flags that are clear signs of elder abuse.

1. Physical abuse
Physical abuse is when someone purposely causes injury, pain, or impairment to an older adult. It also includes isolation and the inappropriate use of restraints.

Warning signs include:

  • Unexplained injuries, like bruises, welts, burns, new scars, broken bones, sprains, or dislocations
  • Reports of drug overdose or not taking medication regularly (like when a prescription has more left at the end of the month than it should)
  • Broken eyeglasses
  • Signs of being restrained, like rope marks on wrists
  • The caregiver refuses to let you to see the older adult without them present


2. Emotional abuse
Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse, threats, harassment, humiliation, and intimidation.

Warning signs include:

  • Any kind of threatening, belittling, or controlling behavior that you observe
  • When the older adult shows increased signs of agitation like rocking, sucking, or mumbling to themselves
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, or unexpected depression
  • The caregiver refuses to let you to see the older adult without them present

Note: Emotional abuse can be especially tough to spot in seniors with dementia. Many of these signs of abuse are similar to typical dementia symptoms. If you spot these signs, listen to your gut, be watchful, and investigate until you’re satisfied that your older adult isn’t being harmed.


3. Financial abuse
Financial abuse is when someone illegally or improperly uses an older adult’s money, property, or other resources. That includes cashing their checks without permission, forging their signature, stealing their money or possessions, coercing or deceiving them into signing documents like contracts or a will.

Warning signs include:

  • Sudden changes in the older adult’s financial situation
  • Irregular spending and withdrawals from the older adult’s accounts, withdrawals made despite penalties
  • Addition of authorized users to the older adult’s bank accounts, credit or debit cards
  • Items or cash missing from their home
  • Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies
  • Unpaid bills or lack of medical care when the older adult should have enough money to pay
  • Financial activity the older adult couldn’t have done themselves, like an ATM withdrawal when they’re bedridden
  • Utilities turned off
  • A “new best friend” or “sweetheart”


4. Sexual abuse
Any non-consensual sexual contact is sexual abuse. That includes touching, fondling, and any sexual activity that happens when the person is unable to understand, not willing or consenting, threatened, or physically forced.

Warning signs include:

  • Bruises around breasts or genitals
  • Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing


5. Neglect or self-neglect
When a caregiver fails to provide or purposely withholds necessities like food, clothing, shelter, medication, medical care, physical assistance, or a safe environment, that is neglect.

When a person doesn’t provide for their own essential needs, that’s self-neglect. Due to their cognitive impairment, seniors with dementia might not be able to provide for their own day-to-day needs. That puts them at risk for falls, wandering, infection, and malnutrition.

Warning signs include:

  • Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
  • Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores
  • Unsanitary living conditions: dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes
  • Being left dirty or unbathed
  • Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather
  • Unsafe living conditions (hoarding, no heat or running water, fire hazards)
  • Desertion of the elder at a public place
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss may indicate neglect.


6. Healthcare fraud and abuse
If a healthcare provider is falsifying patient information for financial gain or not providing proper care, that’s healthcare fraud.

Warning signs include:

  • Problems in a care community, like poorly trained or too few staff, resident crowding, not responding to call bells or alarms, or no improvement in care after major issues are brought to staff or administrator attention
  • Over-medication or under-medication
  • Inadequate care even though bills are paid in full
  • Billing for services that were not provided or duplicate billings for the same medical service or device
  • Billing for a covered service when the service actually provided was not covered
  • Misrepresenting the service provided
  • Being charged for a more complex or expensive service than was actually provided



What to do if you suspect elder abuse: 6 ways to report a problem

If you see signs of elder abuse, you should intervene on your older adult’s behalf. You may be able to fire and report a hired caregiver, move your older adult out of a neglectful care community, or prevent an abusive family member from seeing your older adult.

When you need help from authorities, there are 6 main options for reporting elder abuse. You don’t need to prove that the abuse is happening to make a report, the authorities will investigate.

  1. In an emergency situation, call 911 or the local police
  2. Call your local Adult Protective Services (APS) agency. In most states, APS is the primary agency for abuse and neglect reports. Your report will be kept confidential, regardless of the outcome.
  3. Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse to find contact info for state-level resources
  4. Call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for information or a referral to the correct local agency
  5. Contact the long-term care ombudsman to get help with problems in a long term care community
  6. Call the Alzheimer’s Association at 1-800-272-3900


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Naturally Empowered Wellness & Chiropractic

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