How to Prevent Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes?

Elderly man in nursing home

Learning how to recognize elderly abuse may help reduce the number of cases each year. Lowering risk factors in nursing homes will reduce the chance that a senior may experience psychological, monetary, or physical abuse.

Elderly abuse occurs far too often in modern society, and many cases never reach the authorities. The term “abuse” brings images of physical harm and bruises to mind, but many types of elderly abuse aren’t apparent to the naked eye.

For example, an elderly person may experience solely psychological abuse, allowing the abuser to hide their crime in plain sight. Despite the closeness of caregivers with their elderly patients, abuse isn’t always readily apparent. It can occur in many environments, such as in homes, private care facilities, or public institutions.

Common Signs of Elderly Abuse

Elderly abuse can take several forms, and those forms may not immediately catch the eye of caregivers, family members, or friends. Unfortunately, elder abuse may occur for some time before someone discovers the crime. Types of abuse an elderly person may experience include neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, or psychological abuse. Each type of abuse comes with unique warning signs.


Elder abuse commonly takes the form of neglect. In this instance, seniors or older adults may lack proper clothing and hygiene or live in a home in desperate need of repairs. Sometimes, a senior might lack access to heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer because utility bills have not been paid. The home may contain safety problems like fire hazards, and the victim may experience weight loss or an increase in physical ailments.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is often the most noticeable form of elder abuse. Signs of physical abuse may include bruises, cuts, sores, or unexplained injuries—such as burns or broken bones. Physical abuse may also occur when older adults or seniors are denied the necessary medications they need for their everyday lives, like hearing aids, canes, or glasses. Allowing problems like bedsores to remain untreated may indicate physical abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse of the elderly may have different signs, from an unexplained appearance of a genital infection to bruises and bleeding around the genital areas. A senior may not realize the abuse is occurring if the abuse happens while they’re unconscious or under the influence of heavy medication. Even if no warning signs exist on the body of the elderly person, bloody or torn underwear may indicate the individual has suffered sexual abuse.

Financial Exploitation

Financial abuse is another form of mistreatment. In this instance, the abuser might drain an elderly person’s bank accounts by making unusual purchases without the victim’s authorization. Some abusers will convince the victim that they need monetary help or unusually expensive items. The victim may find it hard to cover monthly bills.

Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse may occur in concert with other types of abuse because the abuser wants their victim to remain silent about physical, sexual, or financial crimes. An abuser may intimidate an elderly person by yelling, making threats, or humiliating them. Sometimes, an abuser may prevent friends and family from visiting the elderly person’s residence.

Elderly Abuse in Nursing Homes

Elderly abuse commonly occurs within nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Those responsible for caring for patients may intentionally or unintentionally harm their patients. Unfortunately, elder maltreatment may result in permanent disability, unnecessary trauma, and even death when the abuse occurs within the confines of an assisted living facility.

The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that elder abuse rates in facilities like nursing homes are exceptionally high, with two-thirds of staff members reporting that they committed elder abuse in the past year. Research suggests approximately one in six people over the age of 60 experience elder abuse at some point in their lives.

The WHO’s analysis of elder abuse rates in general community settings versus institutional settings suggests a shocking discrepancy in the care individuals receive. For example, psychological abuse is reported by 11.6% of elderly citizens in community settings but jumps to a shocking 33.4% in institutional settings.

Statistics suggest that the world’s 60+ population will double to two billion by 2050. The WHO indicates that the risk of abuse for the elderly will increase dramatically as the number of elderly people increases. More seniors than ever will need advanced health care in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Risk Factors for Abuse of the Elderly

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), several risk factors increase the likelihood that a person 60 years or older may experience abuse, particularly within the confines of a nursing home.

Some of those risk factors include:

  • Mental illness
  • Substance abuse (current or past)
  • Physical health problems
  • Past trauma, such as domestic violence

Elderly people who become socially isolated, have a history of disruptive behavior, and receive help from poorly trained caregivers may experience an increased risk of elder abuse. Family conflicts, financial disagreements, and a lack of active personal relationships can further increase the risk.

Cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease make it difficult for families to care for their loved ones, which means families may have no option but to place them in an elder care facility. Medicare usually doesn’t cover care at private institutions, causing many families to place their loved ones in a public institution.

The elderly person’s social support system may evaporate while confined to an assisted living facility, making interventions for help difficult. These factors can all increase the risk of elderly abuse.

Preventing Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

Awareness of risk factors and signs of elder abuse in nursing homes may help family and friends identify when abuse occurs. The CDC provides further guidance on preventing abuse of the elderly. The agency’s recommendations include immediately reporting abuse or suspected abuse to adult protective services or the police.

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) offers a directory of state resource links for elder abuse reporting. The local department of health often provides resources at no cost to families seeking to ensure their loved one receives the best possible medical care.

Unfortunately, there is no universal solution to prevent elder abuse. However, education on the common signs of elder abuse remains one of the best ways to ensure the well-being of older adults living in assisted care facilities.

The financial burden of caring for an elderly family member or friend can increase the risk of elderly abuse because there is often no choice but to place the elder in a nursing home. However, maintaining social connections, participating in community events, and focusing on emotional health can reduce the victimization of nursing home residents and older adults.

Help for Caregivers and Their Elderly Friends & Family

Eventually, almost everyone will become a caregiver to an elderly person or require care in an institutional setting. The threat of elderly abuse will remain constant for Americans and families worldwide. Learning about the common types of elder abuse is just the first step in abuse prevention.

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Patricia Shelton, MD

Picture of a woman smiling


  • University of Washington, Doctor of Medicine – MD. June 2008
  • University of Washington, Bachelor of Science – BS, Jun 2003


Neuroscience and Medicine


  • Dr. Shelton primarily writes content for health-related websites, but has also written test prep materials, white papers, published research articles, court documents, and more.
  • Dr. Shelton teaches anatomy and physiology at the college level for the National Institutes of Health.

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Nursing Home Abuse Should Have Consequences.

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Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.