Elder abuse

Laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one state to another, but broadly defined, abuse may be:

  • Abuse- constitutes the intentional infliction of physical harm, causing injury as a result of negligent acts or omissions, unreasonable confinement, sexual abuse, or sexual assault of an individual who is unable to protect himself or herself from abuse, neglect or exploitation by others because of a physical or mental impairment.
  • Bodily harm- physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.
  • Sexual abuse- non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect- intentional or unintentional failure to fulfill a caregiver’s obligation or duty to an elderly person. “Self neglect” can also occur when an elderly person is unable to or unwilling to make provision for proper care for themselves.
  • Emotional abuse- inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening acts or speech.
  • Abandonment- desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect- characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his or her own health or safety.
  • Financial exploitation- is an act or process of using a person or his resources for another person’s profit or advantage without legal entitlement to do so.
  • Imminent danger- is a condition which could cause serious or life-threatening injury or death.
  • Aggravating circumstances- (such as cruelty, recklessness, and malice in causing injury to others) are often considered by the courts in imposing more severe sentence than a typical sentence for similar offenses.
  • Major unusual incidents- any alleged, suspected, or actual occurrence of an incident that adversely affects the health and safety of an individual.
  • Mandated reporters- are professionals who, in the ordinary course of their work and because they have regular contact with children, disabled persons, senior citizens, or other identified vulnerable populations, are required to report (or cause a report to be made) whenever financial, physical, sexual or other types of abuse have been observed or are suspected, or when there is evidence of neglect.

Warning signs of elder abuse

While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, there are some tell-tale signs that could indicate a problem:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.

Most importantly, be alert. The suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.

Remember, it’s not your role to verify that abuse is occurring, only to alert others of your suspicions. Contact the New Jersey Adult Protective Service Providers if you suspect abuse.


Resources and links