AMU Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Elder Abuse Affects Millions of American Senior Citizens

Elder abuse is a problem that does not get a lot of attention; however, it is a major problem in U.S. society. According to the National Council on Aging, as many as five million elderly Americans are abused each year and elder abuse victims have suffered at least $36.5 billion in losses.  

The Different Forms of Elder Abuse 

The National Council on Aging notes that elder abuse takes different forms. For instance, elder abuse can involve: 

  • Physical abuse 
  • Emotional abuse such as verbal assaults or harassment 
  • Confinement  
  • Caregiver neglect and deprivation of personal needs  
  • Financial exploitation 

Who Commits the Majority of the Abuse? 

Elder abuse can occur from senior citizen’s hired caregivers, associates, spouses, friends or family members. The National Council on Aging finds that around 60% of those responsible for elder abuse are the victim’s family members.  

For instance, relatives serving as caregivers may not provide the care a senior citizen needs. That family member may fail to take an elderly person to a doctor’s appointment or may allow their relative to live in unacceptable or inhumane living conditions.  

[Related article: The Elderly Need Smartphones and Apps to Fight COVID-19]

As a police officer, I have investigated cases where family members were accused of exploiting the finances of an elderly relative. Sometimes, that family member took money from an older relative and failed to use it for its intended purpose. I also have seen cases where family members have access to an elderly person’s finances and spend all of his or her money without the elderly relative’s knowledge.  

Recognizing the Signs of Elder Abuse 

Ideally, everyone should educate themselves on how to recognize the signs of elder abuse and report the situation to authorities when needed. Indicators of elder physical abuse include: 

  • Unexplained, visible injuries such as bruises at different stages of healing  
  • Repeated injuries 
  • Fear of a caregiver  

Also, behavioral changes may be an indicator that a senior is being abused or exploited. These behavioral changes – indicating elder abuse – include: 

  • Isolation 
  • A fear of certain places where abuse has occurred, such as bedrooms and other living spaces 
  • Sleep deprivation 
  • Changes in eating habits 
  • Mental health problems  

One of the challenges of recognizing elder abuse is that victims may have a decline in cognition due to old age. That decline impacts their understanding that they are abuse victims and also affects how they report the abuse to others.  

When you suspect elder abuse, be sure to closely monitor the elderly person. Observe whether someone in that person’s life coaches them on what to say when speaking to medical caregivers, acts in a controlling way, or restricts who the elderly person sees or speaks to.  

Often, family members abusing or exploiting an elderly relative cut that person off from seeing or speaking with others. This isolation is an effort to prevent the elderly person from telling anyone about the mental or physical harm her or she is suffering.  

Another form of elderly abuse is abandonment. Signs of abandonment include: 

  • A strong body odor due to infrequent bathing  

The Abuse of Senior Citizens Is Very Common 

Unfortunately, elder abuse is more common than many people realize. If you observe any troubling signs, it is often best to report the abuse to your local police agency or to the local government agency that serves the needs of senior citizens in your community. 

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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