UNITED STATES—Whether you have decided to send your older adult to a nursing home or into some other kind of communal care setting, you expect that their new caregivers will have the equipment and drive required to meet the advanced nature of their needs. The decision to take their care out of your own hands was likely a tough one, and the responsibility of taking care of them a grave one. You’ll likely have done a ton of research, making sure the nursing home you’re sending them to is a reliable one that will give them constant and compassionate care.

Unfortunately, there is no amount of research on your part that can eliminate the possibility of your older adult experiencing a form of elder abuse. Abusers look to gain any measure of power they can over others, and target older adults because they are seen as vulnerable. While most of us would like to think that communal and nursing home settings are guarded against such individuals, this is unfortunately not true. These locations are actually great places for these abusers to hide, with 2 in 3 healthcare professionals confessing to committing elder abuse in the last year.

This means that despite our best efforts, the only thing you can do to guard against your older adult encountering abuse is gather information on the various forms elder abuse can take, recognize the signs, and take action should they pop up. While this isn’t an all-inclusive guide on these signs, this article will equip you to better recognize and act on these signs. If you see anything that appears questionable outside of what is described here, however, don’t be afraid to investigate.

Without further ado, let’s proceed.


While not what most people would think of when abuse is brought up, neglect is one of the most prevalent forms of elder abuse. Elder neglect is when a caretaker fails to provide the level of care they were entrusted to, allowing their charge’s health to deteriorate and resulting in harm of any kind. Usually, the older adults in nursing homes have conditions that require an extra level of care; resultantly, the consequences of neglect can be severe, ranging from irregular and harmful eating and sleeping habits to deteriorating hygiene and weight loss.

If you notice that your older adult is not eating or sleeping regularly, appears to be withdrawing from outdoor and social activities, or otherwise is behaving irregularly, you might want to double-check and make sure the nursing facility is doing what it needs to be.

Physical/Sexual Abuse

This is one of the most blatant forms of abuse, although it may disguise itself in the form of accidents or happenstance. If you notice that your older adult has started to accrue bruises with no reasonable explanation, that they appear afraid of staff members or in severe emotional distress, or that they have had multiple accidents of the same kind, they may be being abused physically. Suppose you notice that your older adult has bruising or bleeding in sensitive areas, has trouble sitting down, or begins to develop suicidal ideation or show other symptoms of depression. In that case, they may be being sexually abused. Pull them out of that situation and call an experienced lawyer immediately.

Emotional Abuse

This is one of the harder ones to catch, as it leaves no physical signs and requires you to keep track of changes in your older adult’s mental state. Emotional abuse is when a caregiver attempts to dehumanize or demoralize patients in their care, calling them names, threatening them, limiting their use of facilities, or cutting them off from seeing others. Possible signs of emotional abuse are, again, signs of depression or withdrawal from others, moody spells or sudden displays of anger, and fear of particular staff members.

Keeping Vigilant Keeps Others Safe

If you notice any of these signs beginning to manifest themselves, you may want to investigate further. While it may not make you any friends in the nursing facility, it’s far more important that your older adult is kept safe. And should you discover anything untoward in a particular facility, you can then make others aware, helping them stay away from a harmful situation. Don’t be afraid to get dirty and ask the tough questions. Your older adult will thank you for it.