Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Se habla Español (661) 616-9829 (661) 616-9833

Recognizing Signs of Elder Physical Abuse

It’s part of the human condition—as our bodies age, we grow weaker and more vulnerable. Although most people approach older adults with the respect they deserve and rally community support for the elderly, there are still some who take advantage of their frailty. 

Research into elder abuse lags far behind corresponding research on the genesis, incidence, and prevention of child abuse, but it’s estimated that one in 10 older adults fall victim to abuse or neglect and that many more cases go unreported.

On March 23, 2023, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, in announcing updated guidelines for mandated reporters of elder abuse in California, commented, “Too often, these vulnerable adults suffer in silence. It is up to all of us, and especially to anyone involved in their care, to protect them against harm and to ensure they get the comfort and dignity they deserve.”

This article focuses on elderly physical abuse—what it is, how to spot it, and what you can do if you suspect your loved one is a victim.

What Is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is any intentional or negligent act that causes harm to an older adult (65 or older). Categories of elder abuse covered under California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (EADACPA) include:

  • Physical abuse: Covered below
  • Sexual abuse: Any form of sexual assault (California law includes sexual abuse as a sub-category of physical abuse)
  • Emotional abuse: Any treatment that results in “mental suffering”
  • Neglect: Failure to provide for an elder’s physical or mental needs or protection from physical harm
  • Isolation: Preventing contact with family and friends by withholding mail or phone calls or by turning visitors away
  • Financial abuse: Fraudulently taking or appropriating an elder’s funds or property

What Is Elder Physical Abuse?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines the physical abuse of elderly persons as “when an elder experiences illness, pain, injury, functional impairment, distress, or death as a result of the intentional use of physical force.”

In California, the law outlines the following aspects of physical elder abuse:

  • Assault and battery, including hitting, kicking, slapping, or pushing
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Unreasonable physical constraint
  • Deprivation of food or water
  • Physical or chemical restraint used for punishment, for longer than ordered by a physician, or for a purpose not authorized by a physician

Where Does Elderly Physical Abuse Happen?

Elder physical abuse is not limited to incidents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It also includes abuse that occurs in private residences in the community. 

The EADACPA aims to protect the elderly wherever they are. Thus, it provides for additional jail time and fines for crimes against this vulnerable population—for example, if someone mugs an elderly person as they’re walking down the street.

What Causes Elder Physical Abuse?

There are usually multiple factors that lead to elder physical abuse.

Statistics from the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System for 2020 indicate that two-thirds of elder abusers are related to the victims. This may be because family members who live with and care for an elderly person have more contact with their elderly relative than, for example, a caregiver in a nursing home.

Carers with a history of substance abuse or mental illness are more likely than others to become abusive. However, there are also factors related to the elderly themselves. 

For example, elderly suffering from cognitive decline may be aggressive toward caregivers, or their confused mental state may lead to difficult behavior. Caregivers who are overworked, stressed, or burned out may then respond inappropriately. In more extreme cases, caregivers may view their patients in a dehumanized way, opening the door to deliberate and malicious acts of abuse.

The more socially connected an elder is, the less likely they are to be abused. Frequent calls and visits make it difficult for abusers to conceal their activities. Consequently, if you have a loved one who lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you can adopt regular visits as a proactive abuse prevention strategy.

Examples of Elderly Physical Abuse

The California Department of Justice’s published guidelines for mandated reporters of elder abuse include several illustrations of elderly physical abuse. Most involve inappropriate caregiver reactions to difficult patient behavior.

  • A nursing home resident refuses to get out of bed for an activity. The nurse forces them out of bed into a wheelchair and takes them to the activity anyway.
  • A patient is uncooperative in the shower, so the frustrated caregiver sprays them with cold water.
  • An elder with dementia keeps wandering around the facility. A caregiver straps them into a chair in their room to prevent their movement.
  • An agitated resident keeps making noise and calling for help. Unable to calm them down, the nurse administers a sedative.
  • A patient inadvertently grabs an assistant’s shirt as the assistant helps them dress. The assistant responds by slapping their hand.

Signs of Elder Physical Abuse

How to spot signs of physical abuse in elderly graphic

Warning signs of physical abuse toward the elderly include:

  • Bruising, especially bruises circling the wrists, arms, ankles, or neck
  • Unexplained injuries that may result from hitting, kicking, or scratching
  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Untreated medical conditions
  • Changes in behavior, such as withdrawal or depression
  • Unusual behavior, such as rocking
  • Fear of particular people

In some cases, physical abuse results in signs that are visible to the eye. In other cases, physical abuse is only apparent in changes in the behavior or mental state of the abused.

Actions to Take if You Suspect Elder Physical Abuse

If you suspect your loved one has been or is being physically abused, it’s best to report it as soon as possible.

Whenever you see or suspect that someone is in immediate danger, call 911.

If your loved one lives in the community (i.e., not in a nursing home or assisted living facility), report the suspected abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS). APS investigates alleged abuse and involves other agencies and law enforcement as necessary. You can reach California’s 24-hour APS hotline at 833-401-0832.

If your loved one lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility, contact your local long-term care ombudsman. The ombudsman is an advocate for elderly residents in long-term care. They help resolve issues with long-term care staff and conduct investigations of alleged abuse. You can call California’s 24-hour ombudsman hotline at 800-231-4024 or call the Kern County office directly at 661-323-7884.

In addition to contacting the ombudsman for elder abuse cases in long-term care facilities, you can file a report with the overseeing state agency:

Experienced California Elder Abuse Attorneys

When you report suspected elder physical abuse in California to APS or the long-term care ombudsman, you’re taking the first step in protecting your loved one from abuse. APS can help investigate your loved one’s situation and connect them to other community resources to ensure they have a stable, safe living arrangement.

But an investigation—whether it’s undertaken by APS, the ombudsman, DPH, CCL, or law enforcement—does not provide reimbursement for medical expenses stemming from your loved one’s injuries or compensation for their pain and suffering. The Bakersfield elder abuse lawyers of Chain | Cohn | Clark can help you deal with the aftermath of an abusive situation and explore the possibility of a civil lawsuit.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Contact Us Today

for your free case evaluation

Fill out the simple form below and we’ll contact you about your case right away.

Scroll to Top