Reporting Elder Abuse

( If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust. Or call one of the helplines listed in Resources & References below.If you see an older adult being abused or neglected, don’t hesitate to report the situation. Don’t assume that someone else will take care of it or that the person being abused is capable of getting help if he or she really needs it.Many seniors don’t report the abuse they face even if they’re able. Some fear retaliation from the abuser, while others believe that if they turn in their abusers, no one else will take care of them. When the caregivers are their children, they may be ashamed that their children are behaving abusively or blame themselves: “If I’d been a better parent when they were younger, this wouldn’t be happening.” Or they just may not want children they love to get into trouble with the law.

How Do I Report Elder Abuse?

For a list of helplines to call in your country, see the Resources & References section below. In the U.S., for example, the first agency to respond to a report of elderly abuse is usually Adult Protective Services (APS). Its role is to investigate abuse cases, intervene, and offer services and advice, although the power and scope of APS varies from state to state. Wherever you’re reporting elder abuse, though, there are some important things to remember to ensure that you’re able to communicate effectively in different situations:

Tip 1: Try to be specific as you can in your description

You don’t need “hard evidence” to report abuse. In many situations, abuse can be subtle or happen gradually. However, the more specific details you can provide, the clearer the picture of abuse can become. For example, if you’re worried that your neighbor is not taking care of himself, instead of reporting, “My neighbor is having a hard time taking care of himself”, try “I’ve noticed that my neighbor wears the same outfit over and over again and it is looking very dirty. When I come to the door, I smell urine and even feces. The house also smells like there is trash accumulating inside.”

Tip 2: Understand the elder does have the right to refuse services

As painful as it may be, unless the older adult no longer has the mental capacity to make their own decisions, he or she does have the right to refuse help. A senior may refuse to admit they’re being abused because they’re afraid the caregiver will retaliate, or because they’re worried about who will take care of them if their abusive caregiver is removed. Sadly, an elder adult may view having an abusive caretaker as better than having no caretaker and being forced to move out of their own home. In these situations, if it is safe for you to do so, continue to stay in contact and encourage the elder to consider alternatives to home care. For example:

  • Taking tours of assisted living or other facilities, without any immediate pressure to move, may help dispel myths or eradicate the older person’s fears about moving
  • Offering services on a trial basis can help the elder see the positive changes they can have, and make them more open to change. For example, if self-neglect is an issue, encourage them to try housekeeping help for a month, or a meal delivery service for a few weeks.
  • Keeping the older adult and caregiver connected to support services can help reduce feelings of isolation and depression, two major risk factors for elder abuse. Also, the more support there is for the elder and the caregiver, the more eyes there will be to watch for any warning signs of abuse.
  • If a family caregiver is suspected of abuse, other family members may have the best chance of convincing the older adult to consider alternative care.

Tip 3: Keep your eyes and ears open

If you see future incidences of abuse, continue to call and report them. Each elder abuse report is a snapshot of what is going on. The more information that you can provide, the better the chance the elder has to get the level of care he or she needs. Older adults can be increasingly isolated from society and, with no school or work to attend, it can be easy for abuse cases to go unnoticed for long periods.

Reporting Abuse in the Home and Self-neglect

Sadly, two of the most common sources of elder abuse are abuse by a primary caregiver—often an adult child—and self-neglect. Here are some tips for handling these situations.

Elder abuse in the home

  • Try to have different family members or neutral parties involved in the older adult’s care to provide checks and balances, including reviewing finances. The greater the cognitive or physical impairment of the elder, the more people need to be involved in their care. While there is no excuse for abuse, caregiving can be extremely taxing, both mentally and physically. If a caregiver is unable to get any respite, has disrupted sleep, or is experiencing his or her own health problems, there is a greater risk for elder abuse.
  • Feelings of shame can often keep elder abuse hidden. You may not want to believe a family member could be capable of abusing a loved one, or you may even think that the older adult would be angry at you for speaking up. But remember, everyone deserves to live with dignity and respect. The earlier you intervene in a situation of elder abuse, the better the outcome will be for everyone involved.

Look for common risk factors for elder abuse in the home

  • Substance abuse can impede a caregiver’s ability to provide adequate care. It also increases the risk of financial abuse as the caregiver struggles to finance a substance abuse habit.
  • A history of domestic violence or other violence can often be a marker for elder abuse later in life.


You may notice that an older family member, friend, or neighbor living alone is no longer taking care of themselves. They may appear increasingly disheveled, lack basic personal hygiene, or their home may be growing dirtier and dirtier. In many cases of self-neglect, the older person will refuse to get assistance. However, there are still things that you can do to help.

  • Remember, any older adult deserves dignity and respect. He or she may be in denial, feel ashamed about needing help, or worried about having to leave home. Don’t stop checking in with the older adult, even if you are brushed off. Enlist others to express their feelings of concern to the elder. Sometimes a peer or a neutral party, such as a geriatric care manager, may have a better chance of getting through.
  • Make sure the older adult is connected with medical services. Self-neglect can be a sign of depression, grief, dementia, or other medical causes. If you know the person’s doctor, you can share your concerns. While the doctor may not be able to discuss the case with you if you do not have the older adult’s permission, you can write a letter or call to make sure that your concerns are heard.
  • It can be a real challenge to respect an older adult’s right to autonomy while at the same time making sure they are properly cared for. If you are concerned that a person’s ability to take care of themselves safely is compromised, you can look into legal guardianship or legal conservatorship. If there is not an appropriate family member available, a guardian can be appointed by the court.

More Help for Elder abuse and Neglect

Abuse Help Center: Whether you’re the abused, the abuser, or a concerned friend or family member, it’s important to know that there is help available.

Resources and References

General information on elder abuse

Elder Abuse and Neglect: In Search of Solutions – Covers the facts about elder abuse, as well as signs of abuse and steps to take if abuse occurs.  (American Psychological Association)

Frequently Asked Questions – Answers to 16 key questions about elder abuse. (National Center on Elder Abuse, U.S Department of Health and Human Services)

What is Elder Abuse? – Site provides definitions of different types of elder abuse, along with signs and risk factors. (National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse)

Self-neglect – Provides information on self-neglect including how to advocate for the older adult and the limitations of Adult Protective Services. (Aging and Disability Services Administration)

Nursing home abuse

Nursing Home Abuse News – Provides information about elder abuse in nursing homes and steps you can take to protect a loved one from neglect or abuse. (Nursing Home Abuse News)

Preventing elder abuse

Preventing Elder Abuse by Family Caregivers – PDF article describing why it’s hard to be a caregiver, the potential for abuse, and where to find help. (National Center on Elder Abuse)

Preventing & Reporting Elder Abuse – 39-page PDF booklet covering many aspects of elder abuse. (California Department of Justice)

Reporting and stopping elder abuse

State Directory of Helplines, Hotlines, and Elder Abuse Prevention Resources – (National Center on Elder Abuse)

Elder abuse helplines and hotlines:

Reporting elder abuse in the U.S.

What services are available to stop abuse? – Provides resources in the community for stopping abuse, including counseling, legal services, and case management. (National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse)

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys – Public section of site that defines elder law, issues to consider, questions to ask when finding an attorney, and how to find an elder law attorney. (NAELA)


© All rights reserved.