How to spot elder abuse in individuals with dementia

June 18, 2020 | Caregiver Resources

Elder Abuse is a broad term that is commonly categorized into five types; physical, emotional/psychological, sexual, neglect, and financial exploitation. Approximately 1 in 6 people 60 years and older have experienced some sort of abuse within the last year. Individuals with dementia are at a higher risk with 2 out of 3 being a victim of abuse. Elder abuse is an underreported problem and individuals with dementia may report false accusations of abuse due to their impaired memory while those who are truly being abused may report but are not taken seriously because of their diagnosis.

It is important to be aware of the warning signs and risk factors for becoming a victim of abuse especially if the victim is not aware of what’s going on or cannot speak for themselves. Knowing these can help stop or prevent abuse from happening. Here are a few examples of what to look out for:

  • Unexplained injuries such as bruising, burns, scars, or broken bones
  • Reports of over or under medicating
  • The abuser making verbal threats or exhibiting controlling behaviors to isolate the victim
  • Sudden change in alertness, depression, or withdrawal from normal activities
  • Irregular spending, unusual withdrawals, suspicious change in wills or power of attorney
  • Unexplained weight loss, poor hygiene, or inappropriate clothing for the weather

If you suspect abuse or neglect, report it to Adult Protective Services at 855-444-3911 or for immediate safety concerns, call the police.

For more information and resources please visit:

Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan: www.aaawm.org or call 616-456-5664

Kent County Elder Abuse Coalition website: www.protectkentseniors.org

Michigan Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Taskforce: www.Michigan.gov

World Health Organization Elder Abuse Infographic

Sources: Alzheimer's Association, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization

Contributed by: Cassie Caple, LLMSW
Contract Administrator at the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan
Coordinator of the Kent County Elder Abuse Coalition