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Signs of Elder Abuse 
by Joanne Heck June 21, 2005

Emotional/Psychological Abuse

Causing an elderly person mental or emotional distress by means of humiliation, intimidation or threats is emotional abuse. This includes any form of verbal assault, insult, harassment, isolation, or giving the “silent treatment”.

Case #4

Norma is a 67 year old female who lives by herself. Her daughter comes to check on her three or four times a week. Occasionally, Norma has urinary incontinence. Norma’s daughter is frustrated and irritated about her mother’s inability to hold her urine, and tells her she will have to put diapers on her “like a baby” and will have to put her in a nursing home if she doesn’t stop wetting her pants.

Obviously Norma’s daughter is mentally abusing her mother. Emotional abuse may be hard to detect if it is not directly observed. Many elderly people tolerate emotional abuse because they are afraid of being sent to nursing homes or losing their own homes. Relatives or caregivers who bully or cause the elderly person to feel threatened sometimes do so in a way that the elderly person can not verbalize.

The signs of emotional abuse are:

  • Emotional upset or agitation
  • Elderly person becomes extremely withdrawn
  • Elderly person becomes non-communicative
  • Obvious behavior changes


Neglect is the failure to provide food, water, clothing, shelter, hygiene, medication, safety and comfort by someone who is responsible for the elderly person.

Case #5

Francis has been caring for her confused mother for two years. She works full time and is gone until five o’clock every evening. Her mother is confused and frequently roams the neighborhood. Neighbors have noticed that the elderly woman wears the same clothing every day and smells of urine and feces. She is very thin and is often underdressed for the weather.

Many adult children have good intentions to care for their elderly family members. Ignorance of how to care for them or purposeful neglect can be the cause, but if the needs of the elderly person are not being met, it is still neglect. Many times, other forms of abuse are happening in cases of neglect.

Abandonment is also a type of neglect. Family members have been reported to leave their elderly relatives at hospitals, shelters or other places without returning.

Neglect of the elderly can include any of the following signs:

  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Poor hygiene
  • Untreated health problems
  • Unsafe living arrangements
  • Unclean environment or living conditions
  • Lack of supervision or monitoring
  • Inappropriate clothing for the weather
  • Lack of attention to needs, calls for help, etc. of the elderly
  • Lack of assistance when needed

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