As difficult as it is to comprehend why, it’s important we all realize that the elderly, especially those who rely on others for their care, are often targeted for abuse and neglect. The signs may be hard to see, but by making yourself aware of the signs and risks, you can more effectively assess whether or not your loved one is susceptible to abuse.

In a recent article for Geriatrics magazine, Halphen, Varas and Sadowsky[1] discussed how women over the age of 80 are the most vulnerable to abuse. Also at high risk are those with dementia, those who are unable to care for their daily needs, and those who are depressed or isolated.

It is important to know everything you can about the people taking care of your loved one, even if they’re family. Know their background and personality. Halphen, Varas and Sadowsky point out several caregiver traits that may be red flags, such as mental illness, financial stress or dependency, substance abuse, and/or history of violence, or anti-social behavior. Studies have shown that caregivers with any of these traits have a higher tendency towards taking advantage of or abusing an elderly person.

There are many types of abuse that can occur, according to Peg Gray-Vickrey, in her article “Protecting the Older American”[2]:

Emotional Abuse: willfully causing pain and sadness through insults, yelling, threats, humiliation or isolation.

Financial Abuse: misusing someone’s property or finances, taking or selling things without permission, controlling/dictating finances without permission.

Physical Abuse: using physical force to cause bodily injury or harm (i.e. hitting, slapping, biting, molesting, burning, pushing or pulling).

Neglect: failing to take care of all of a person’s needs (i.e. adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical needs or assistance with activities of daily living).

Tips for Senior Citizens: How to Avoid Abusive Situations and Keep Yourself Safe:

In Nursing magazine[2], the AARP published several tips for avoiding abusive situations and keeping yourself or your loved ones safe.

1. Stay Social. Prevent loneliness by spending time with your friends and family and making new friends wherever you go. Invite others over for visits and maintain your relationships. This way, you will have a lot of people watching out for you, as you watch out for them.

2. Stay Active. Get out of the house every now and then. Join an organization or club. Volunteer at a local school, event, museum, etc.  Be proactive with your health–regularly visit your doctor and dentist. Be as active as possible in body and mind, so you don’t become isolated from the world.

3. Stay Organized. Organize everything around you: your finances, possessions, home, etc. Take charge of your own money, maintain your bank accounts, be aware of deposits and withdrawals, and pay your own bills. When you are organized, aware and in charge, it will be difficult for someone to take advantage of you or steal from you.

4. Stay Informed. Prepare for any future health challenges. Consult a lawyer before making major financial/legal decisions and keep your will up-to-date. This way, there won’t be any doubt or debate regarding your future. And know who to call for help if you are being abused or taken advantage of in any way.

5. Follow These “Don’ts”:

  • Don’t live with anyone who has a history of violence, alcohol abuse or drug abuse.
  • Don’t leave your home unattended. Notify trustworthy neighbors or the police if you will be gone for a long period of time.
  • Don’t leave cash, jewelry or prized possessions lying about.
  • Don’t sign any document unless someone you trust has reviewed it.
  • Don’t let anyone keep you in the dark about your finances or property.


If you suspect abuse or observe unexplainable injuries, talk to your loved one. If your loved one is reluctant to talk about it, you may need to show love and concern—and persist until you find out what is happening. Often, an elderly person will not want anyone to discover the abuse, out of shame, fear of retaliation from the abuser, or even out of desire to protect the abuser.

Take a stance against abuse. You may be the only one who can speak out on your loved one’s behalf. Make sure anyone caring for your loved one knows that you are involved and aware of all that is going on in his or her life–and you will not tolerate anything but kind, loving care.

[1] Halphen, J.N., Varas, G.M., & Sadowsky, J.M. “Recognizing and Reporting Elder Abuse and Neglect.” Geriatrics, July 2009, 64.7, pg. 13-18.

[2] Gray-Vickrey, P. “Protecting the Older American.” Nursing, 2000, 30.7, pg. 34-38.