10 Signs of Elder Abuse You Should Know How to Recognize

lady helping an elder from a chair

There are about 73,000 older adults in 683 licensed nursing homes in Florida at any given time, according to the Florida Health Care Association. Families place their elderly relatives in long-term care facilities assuming they will receive attentive care. But that is not always the case.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) estimates that approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60 or older has experienced some form of elder abuse. That would equate to about 7,300 Florida nursing home residents suffering some form of nursing home abuse or neglect.

Elder abuse in Florida is a great concern to us at Chiumento Law, PLLC Our elder law attorneys assist individuals and families with a variety of long-term care issues, including guardianship, neglect and abuse

You need to know what elder abuse is and how to recognize it in institutional settings such as nursing homes. Below are common signs of elder or nursing home abuse and neglect.

What is Elder Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?

The State of Florida addresses abuse of vulnerable adults. The group includes persons 18 years old or older whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for their own care is impaired due to the infirmities of aging, brain damage or another disability.

Abuse of a vulnerable adult is any willful act or threatened act by a caregiver, relative or household member that causes or is likely to cause significant impairment to a vulnerable adult’s physical, mental or emotional health.

Neglect of a vulnerable adult is the failure or omission on the part of the caregiver to provide the care, supervision and essential services necessary to maintain the physical and mental health of the vulnerable adult, including food, clothing, medicine, shelter, supervision, and medical services. The term neglect also means the failure of a caregiver to make a reasonable effort to protect a vulnerable adult from abuse, neglect or exploitation by others.

Specific types of elder abuse include:

  • Physical abuse: inflicting physical pain or injury upon an older adult.
  • Sexual abuse: touching, fondling, intercourse, sodomy, or any other sexual activity, including coerced nudity or viewing of sexual material, with an older adult who is threatened, physically forced or unable to understand or willingly consent.
  • Emotional abuse: verbal assault, threats of abuse, harassment, intimidation, demeaning comments, taunting or coercive behavior.
  • Passive neglect: failure to provide an older adult with life’s necessities, including food, clothing, shelter or medical care.
  • Willful deprivation: denying an older adult medication, medical care, shelter, food, a therapeutic device, or other physical assistance, and exposing that person to the risk of physical, mental or emotional harm — except when a competent older adult has expressed a desire to go without such care.
  • Confinement: restraining or isolating an older adult, other than for legitimate medical reasons.
  • Financial exploitation: misuse, theft or withholding of an older adult’s resources.

Abuse and neglect in nursing homes often take the form of inadequate medical treatment or personal care, and are due to understaffing or inadequately trained staff. However, it is increasingly recognized that a great amount of abuse in nursing homes is perpetrated by other nursing home residents.

Outside of nursing homes and other institutional settings, the perpetrator in a community setting is a family member in almost 60 percent of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the National Council on Aging says. Two thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

Know These 10 Signs of Elder / Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

The No. 1 sign of elder abuse or neglect is a complaint by an elderly person that they are being harmed, deprived or exploited. However, an elderly abuse victim’s complaints are often ignored and attributed to unhappiness about being in a nursing home, dementia or some need for attention. Don’t make this mistake. Look into an elderly person’s complaints.

  1. Pain and injury. Physical abuse can be seen in the form of welts, wounds, and unexplained bruises, cuts, burns and broken bones. Bruising around the genitals, buttocks, or breasts are signs of sexual abuse.
  2. Unattended needs. An elderly person who suffers from malnutrition and/or dehydration, rapid weight loss or gain, or exacerbation of pre-existing health conditions may be suffering from neglect. A person who develops bed sores may not be getting repositioned regularly enough to prevent the sores. An elderly person in dirty or soiled clothes or bedding, or who suffers from poor hygiene, is not receiving adequate care.
  3. Sudden cognitive or emotional change. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse can cause the victim to suddenly withdraw from social contact or act out in social situations. Abuse can cause sleep disturbances, degeneration into childlike behavior or indecisiveness, depression, or becoming noncommunicative. A sexual abuse victim might speak about a new boyfriend or girlfriend or begin to use sexual language not commonly used before.
  4. Fear. An abuse victim may exhibit anxiety around certain individuals taking part in physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
  5. Unusual clinging or subservience. Some abuse victims react by trying to ingratiate themselves with their tormentors.
  6. Isolation, lack of friends. A nursing home resident who does not take part in group activities or says they do not have friends at the home may be the victim of forced isolation or shunning by staff or residents, or other abuse.
  7. Lost personal possessions. Personal items such as eyeglasses, radio, TV, bedside clock, phone, clothing that are missing or damaged may have been stolen or otherwise misappropriated, or intentionally broken.
  8. Changes in financial accounts. Unexplained changes in a will or to beneficiary designations on insurance policies or other financial accounts merit further investigation. They may be indications of financial exploitation.
  9. An over-attentive companion. A new, close “friend” who pays particular attention to your loved one and/or answers questions for them or prods their responses may be taking advantage of them somehow. You have reason to be suspicious if this friend has received “gifts” from your loved one.

Respond to Elder Abuse or Neglect

If you believe an elderly person is being abused or neglected, you have a legal obligation to act. If you think they are in immediate danger, dial 911 or otherwise contact local law enforcement authorities.

Otherwise report your suspicions to the State of Florida at:


  • State of Florida Department of Elder Affairs
    4040 Esplanade Way Tallahassee, FL 32399-7000
  • Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873)
  • Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-500-1119
  • Elder Helpline: 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337)
  • Long-Term Care Ombudsman: (for those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities) 1-888-831-0404

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