Elder Abuse

elder abuse

When we hear of domestic abuse, we often think of abuse of a spouse or child. We sometimes overlook the abuse of our elderly population. In North Carolina, the elderly includes anyone over the age of 55.  Some of these senior citizens are less able to care for themselves, physically or mentally, and this dependence can leave them susceptible to abuse and manipulation.

As with domestic abuse, elder abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional, but in this case can also include neglect and exploitation. Abusers in this situation may be spouses, younger family members, friends, or caregivers. Elders in nursing or care homes are also vulnerable.

Sadly, elder abuse is grossly under reported. Some experts estimate that only 1 of 14 cases of elder abuse is reported to authorities. This leaves a significant number of cases left alone, often shrouded amidst family secrets or individual fears. If you are close  acquainted with an elderly person and notice any signs of abuse, please follow-up or seek help for your friend.

Types of Elder Abuse

  • Physical: Any violent behaviors such as hitting or shoving, as well as the inappropriate use of drugs or restraints.
  • Emotional: Victimizing the elderly person through intimidation, yelling, threats, humiliation, ridicule, constant blaming, terrorizing, ignoring the elderly person, or isolating the elderly person from friends and activities.
  • Sexual: Any form of sexual assault or harassment, such as rape, forcing the elderly person to perform sexual acts, or forcing them to watch pornography.
  • Neglect or abandonment by caregivers: Failure to fulfill a caretaker obligation, or when elderly individuals are not taken care of in an appropriate or humane way by a caregiver.
  • Financial exploitation: Stealing cash, checks, or credit cards, using an elderly person’s checking account in a fraudulent way, intentionally managing an elderly individual’s money in an incorrect way or expressly for the caregiver’s gain.

Signs of Elder Abuse

  • Physical: Bruises, welts, scars, broken bones, dislocations, drug overdoses, failure to take medication correctly, odd explanations for injuries, over-sedation, burn marks, broken eyeglasses, marks on wrists.
  • Emotional: Witnessing a caregiver belittling or humiliating the elder, the elder appearing unusually agitated or withdrawn, behavior from the elder that mimics dementia (such as rocking, humming and thumb sucking).
  • Sexual: Bruises or marks around breasts or genitals, unexplained venereal diseases or genital infections, unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding, torn or stained undergarments, difficulty walking or standing.
  • Neglect or abandonment by caregivers: Unusual weight loss or dehydration, untreated bed sores, being left unbathed, desertion of the elder in a public place, living in a place with no heat, running water, or other basic necessities, dirty clothes, being dressed inappropriately for the weather.
  • Financial exploitation: Depletion of assets with no explanation, unpaid bills or lack of medical care, missing jewelry or money, unexplained actions such as ATM withdrawals while elder is sick or bedridden, bounced checks, significant withdrawals from accounts, abundance of unnecessary goods or subscriptions.

REACH Services for Elder Abuse

  • 24-hour Crisis Helpline
  • Filing for a protective order
  • Counseling
  • Emergency shelter
  • Transportation
  • Services for persons with disabilities

Plus, referrals to other agencies for:

  • Home health aides
  • Meal delivery
  • Day care
  • Help with daily living tasks

We must all be vigilant in noticing and reporting signs of elder abuse. This population is often left alone and their caregivers are sometimes given too much trust. If you have an elderly person in your life, commit these warning signs to memory and get help immediately if you suspect any type of abuse. Call REACH at (828) 456-7898.

Other Resources


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REACH of Haywood County, Inc. serves survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through advocacy, community outreach and prevention education to empower individuals to live a self-sufficient life free of violence.


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