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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is elder abuse?

Domestic elder abuse refers to types of mistreatment that are committed by someone with whom the elder has a special relationship (for example, a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver).

Institutional abuse generally refers to any types of mistreatment occurring in residential facilities (such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, group home, board and care facility, foster home, etc.) and is usually done by someone with a legal or contractual obligation to provide some element of care or protection.

Although there are distinct types of abuse defined, it is not uncommon for an elder to experience more than one type of mistreatment at the same or different times. For example, a person financially exploiting an elder may also be neglecting to provide appropriate care, food, medication, etc. Visit the Forms of Abuse page to learn more about the types of elder abuse.

2. What are the warning signs of elder abuse?

While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some indicators that there could be a problem are:

  • 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.

It’s important to remain alert. The suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in personality, behavior, or physical condition, you should start to question what is going on.

3. What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse?

Elder abuse, like other types of domestic violence, is extremely complex. Generally a combination of psychological, social, and economic factors, along with the mental and physical conditions of the victim and the perpetrator, contribute to the occurrence of elder maltreatment.

Although the factors listed below cannot explain all types of elder maltreatment, because it is likely that different types (as well as each single incident) involve different casual factors, they are some of the risk factors researchers say seem to be related to elder abuse.

Dementia and Cognitive Impairment
Elders with dementia are thought to be at greater risk of abuse and neglect than those of the general elderly population. Risk factors for this population include the caregivers heightened perception of burden and depressive symptoms, as well as the care recipient’s psychological aggression and physical assault behaviors.

Domestic Violence Grown Old
It is important to acknowledge that spouses make up a large percentage of elder abusers, and that a substantial proportion of these cases are domestic violence grown old: partnerships in which one member of a couple has traditionally tried to exert power and control over the other through emotional abuse, physical violence and threats, isolation, and other tactics.

Personal Problems of Abusers
Particularly in the case of adult children, abusers often are dependent on their victims for financial assistance, housing, and other forms of support. Oftentimes they need this support because of personal problems, such as mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, or other dysfunctional personality characteristics. The risk of elder abuse seems to be particularly high when these adult children live with the elder.

Living with Others and Social Isolation
Both living with someone else and being socially isolated have been associated with higher elder abuse rates. These seemingly contradictory findings may turn out to be related in that abusers who live with the elder have more opportunity to abuse and yet may be isolated from the larger community themselves or may seek to isolate the elders from others so that the abuse is not discovered. Further research needs to be done to explore the relationship between these factors.

4. Who are the abusers of older people?

Most cases of elder abuse are carried out by known and trusted others, particularly family members (including adult children, spouses, and others). Abusers can be men or women, of any age, race, or socioeconomic status. Elder mistreatment is done by family members, friends, service providers, peers, and strangers.

5. Are there criminal penalties for the abusers?

The Consumer Protection Division of the Pa. Department of Aging is responsible for services that protect older Pennsylvanians against fraud, abuse, neglect, exploitation and abandonment through the Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA), and for managing the Criminal History Record Check process.

The Office of the Attorney General is authorized to take formal legal action against persons and organizations who engage in unfair and deceptive conduct in the advertisement or sale of goods or services within the Commonwealth. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors are trained on elder abuse and know how to apply criminal and civil laws to bring abusers to justice.

6. Who do I call if I suspect elder abuse?

Pennsylvania state-wide elder abuse hotline 800-490-8505
Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General Elder Abuse Unit hotline 866-623-2137
Schuylkill County Office of Senior Services 1-800-832-3313

7. What can I do if I'm concerned about possible abuse or neglect in a nursing home?

If you suspect abuse or neglect of someone living in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or board and care home, contact the Office of Senior Services at 1-800-832-3313.

8. What are the signs to look for when visiting an elderly relative?

Please read Home for the Holidays – a document created to help you become aware of the signs of self-neglect, neglect, and abuse by others to your elderly relatives.

9. How can financial exploitation be prevented in Nursing Homes or Assisted Living Facilities?

Financial exploitation happens when someone illegally or improperly uses an older adult’s money or belongings for their personal use. Financial exploitation is the fastest growing form of elder abuse. It is a crime and is often not reported. Learn how to protect yourself or your loved one through these fact sheets (Adobe Reader required).

Nursing Home Fact Sheets – Protect Yourself | Protect Your Loved One
Assisted Living Facility Fact Sheets – Protect Yourself | Protect Your Loved One