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Information, Empowerment and Protection

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 Elder Abuse Prevention

Image to share 5 things everyone can do to prevent elder abuse 

Elder Abuse Overview

Did you know that every day 10,000 people turn 65 in the United States? Our demographics are shifting and we will soon have more older adults in the U.S. than ever before. Every year, an estimated five million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, roughly one in ten older Americans over the age of 60 has been the victim of some kind of abuse, and that's only part of the picture. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an estimated 93% of elder abuse cases go unreported each year. 

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is a single or repeated act of intentional or negligent behavior perpetrated by a caregiver, entity, family member, staff, or trusted individual, that causes harm to a vulnerable older adult. These types of acts constitute a violation of human rights and take many forms, including:

  1. Physical Abuse – The use of force causing harm or pain to an older adult, which includes (but is not limited to) hitting, kicking, pinching, slapping, shoving, shaking, and burning. Other forms of physical abuse involve the inappropriate use of medication or physical restraints.
  2. Financial Abuse/Exploitation – Happens when a person wrongfully takes or uses an older adult’s funds or property through theft, scams, fraud, or predatory lending. (For more specific information on the exploitation of older adults, see our Elder Financial Exploitation page.)
  3. Psychological Abuse – Causing emotional pain towards older adults through verbal assaults, threats, or harassment. Perpetrators intimidate, humiliate, or attempt to isolate their victims.
  4. Sexual Abuse – Having non-consensual sexual contact of any kind, including contact with an older adult unable to consent to such contact (for instance, if they suffer from dementia and are unable to understand.)
  5. Neglect – Occurs when the caregiver fails to meet or try to respond to the needs of an older adult. This may include not providing essential things the older adult needs, such as food, water, shelter, medicine, clothing, or personal hygiene.
  6. Self-Neglect – Involves the failure of an older adult to meet vital self-care needs, which puts them at risk of harm to their safety and/or health. 
​Please note that it is very common for an older adult to be subjected to more than one of the above forms of elder abuse at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.  

Image to show icons of common forms of abuse

Who is at risk?

All older adults may be victims of elder abuse. Regardless of whether they are rich or poor, highly educated or undereducated, or suffering from dementia or “sharp as a tack,” seniors of all races, cultures, and creeds are victimized. Elder abuse is a silent problem that robs seniors of their dignity, security, and in some cases costs them their lives. It can occur anywhere - in the victim’s home, a family member’s home, a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or in other institutions. 

What are the signs?

The most common warning signs of elder abuse are strange and sudden changes to an older adult’s mental, physical, or financial well-being. Specific signs of elder abuse and neglect vary depending on what type of elder abuse is affecting the victim. If you notice that an older adult exhibits warning signs of abuse, take immediate action. Here are some signs of elder abuse and neglect that everyone should know or use this checklist “Suspect Neglect of an Older Adult: What to do?” from the NCEA​ and the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA). This checklist was developed to help us all know the signs of neglect and what to do if we have concerning observations. Click here.

  1. Emotional & Behavioral Signs
    • ​Increased fear or anxiety
    • Isolation from friends and family
    • Unusual changes in behavior or sleep
    • Withdrawal from normal activities
  2. ​​Physical Signs
    • ​​Dehydration or unusual weight loss
    • Unattended medical needs
    • Unexplained injuries, bruises, cuts, or sores
    • Unsanitary living conditions, poor hygiene, or torn or bloody underclothing
  3. ​Financial Signs
    • ​​Fraudulent signatures on financial documents
    • Unusual or sudden changes in spending patterns, will, or other financial documents
    • Unpaid bills 

How to report suspected Elder Abuse:

Maryland law requires health practitioners, police officers, and human service workers to report suspected abuse of vulnerable adults to the local department of social services. A vulnerable adult is anyone over 18 years of age who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for their daily needs. Social workers, employees of licensed health care facilities, and employees of financial institutions have additional, and in some cases mandatory, reporting requirements for abuse.   

Any concerned person who has reason to believe that a vulnerable adult has been subjected to abuse may report it, and often the report can be anonymous. The following information on reporting is for members of the public.  

First, if you believe a crime is in progress or is about to be consummated, e.g., an assisted living resident has been or is about to be assaulted by an aide who scammed the resident, start with calling your local police by dialing 911.  

Second, follow the steps below to determine what other avenues are available to report suspected elder abuse. Whether or not you have called 911, you still may report the suspected abuse to one or more of the agencies mentioned below.  

SELECT Non-Healthcare Facility if the person is not residing in a healthcare facility such as an assisted living facility, long-term care facility, or hospital. Please click on one of the below buttons based on the individual:​

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What Can You Do to Help Keep Maryland's Seniors Safe from Elder Abuse?
In addition to reporting suspected abuse, you can educate yourself and others about learning how the signs of elder abuse differ from the normal aging process. Check-in regularly on seniors who may have few friends or family members. Provide caregivers with emotional support, and when possible, consult with others such as​ paid caregivers, and guardians for healthcare and financial matters. 

Here are some informational links:

Additional Resources 

Contact Person: Leonard Croft, Elder Rights Program Manager, 410-767-4665, leonard.croft@maryland.gov 


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