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Recognizing Elder Abuse and Neglect: Taking Steps Towards Change

Recognizing Elder Abuse and Neglect: Taking Steps Towards Change

Written by 2023 Peck Law Group article scholarship winner Mia Knight.

We are all getting older. Whether viewed positively or negatively, aging is an inevitability. For most, growing old results in a loss of independence, leading to the need for assistance from others. Different cultures have different traditions and perspectives in regard to caring for their elderly. Eastern cultures, like China and other Asian countries, adhere to the Confucian tradition of filial piety, prioritizing the family unit and emphasizing treating elders with the utmost respect. In Latin and Mediterranean cultures, multiple generations often live in the same household, allowing the older generation to be active and integrated within families into their later years.

In western cultures, like the United States of America, however, youth and individualism
are important, sometimes to the unfortunate detriment of the elderly. As with any culture, there
are exceptions; however, it is typical in American culture, as the health of the elderly
deteriorates, to move them into retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing
homes. Unfortunately, behind closed doors, there are often problems that most are too
uninformed to see.

Elder Abuse and Neglect

Types and signs of elder abuse and neglect infographic, illustrating financial abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, physical and sexual abuse.

Unless an individual is directly working in an assisted living center or is exposed to
assisted living centers through direct relatives or friends, it is likely that they will never know
about the prevalence of elder abuse and neglect. Elder abuse and neglect is a complex problem that does not discriminate based on socioeconomic status, race, or religion. According to the Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, there are seven types of elder abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, neglect, abandonment, and self-neglect.

  • Physical abuse is defined as “inflicting pain or injury through such actions as slapping,
    hitting, bruising or restraining.” It can also be considered physical abuse when
    medication is tampered with, meaning that a resident receives too much or too little of
    their medicine.
  • Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact, which can be difficult to discern when a
    resident has issues with memory loss.
  • Emotional abuse is defined as causing stress or torment through verbal or nonverbal acts
    like threats or disgracing.
  • Financial abuse is when a resident’s funds or belongings are illegally used to benefit
  • Neglect is explained as purposefully failing to help a resident with food, medication,
    protection, or clothing.
  • Abandonment is defined as leaving an elder or other vulnerable adult in any location.
  • Self-neglect is considered elder abuse, even though it doesn’t involve a third party,
    because an at-risk adult is not in a position to care for their own well-being.
    It is hard to determine exactly how prevalent elder abuse and maltreatment are because it
    is often underreported and unidentified. Some reported cases deal with just one type of abuse, whereas others deal with more than one.

In 2005, “the National Center on Elder Abuse estimated that as many as 2 million elders have been mistreated.” This article focuses on the purpose of assisted living centers, recognizing the signs of elder abuse and neglect, my family’s personal experience with assisted living facilities, and how our society can move forward and reverse the problem of elder abuse and neglect. The seniors who have built up America positively deserve secure and comfortable living situations, and only we can make this change.

Assisted Living Centers

According to a research team focused on the elderly, assisted living is still a relatively
new concept. Nursing homes have been the only senior care option for a long time.

Assisted living centers are often built with apartments or suites intended to help residents feel like they have their own homes. Additionally, assisted living centers have bathrooms and kitchenettes or a full kitchen so that residents can have some independence while still receiving the help they need. Nursing homes, on the other hand, have more of a clinical environment and residents typically live in a private or semi-private room that does not include a living room or kitchen.

Assisted living centers cater to a variety of needs. Some residents need help with the activities of daily living, including dressing and going to the bathroom. Other residents simply need help with medication management and regulation. Good assisted living centers can provide “companionship, personalized care, social activities, and nutritious meals to seniors in a safe, communal setting.” But how can one determine that their loved one or they themselves are being treated fairly and appropriately when elder abuse is so prevalent?

Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect

Because many seniors are unable to communicate their thoughts and feelings properly, it
is extremely important for family or friends to remain closely involved in the care of their loved
ones. Elder abuse in assisted living facilities can lead to a quick decline in the health of those
already in a vulnerable state. According to the Peck Law Group, “Approximately 5 million
Americans over the age of 60 become a victim of elder abuse or neglect every year,” and for the individuals who have been mistreated, “the risk of death is 300 times greater.” So what are the signs to look out for?

When visiting or spending time with an elderly adult in an assisted living facility, it is
important to watch for the following signs of abuse and neglect. Signs can include:

  • Unexplained bruises, scars, or burns
  • Bedsores or other clearly preventable conditions
  • Unexpected changes in financial situations
  • Signs of depression and being withdrawn
  • Seeming over or under-medicated, dehydrated, or unclean

When you think elder abuse or neglect may be present, asking the right questions can
help you assess the situation. Consider asking if the individual feels safe or if the individual’s
needs are being met.

Who Can Help?

If elder abuse and neglect have been an issue and you require legal help, contact an
expert attorney at Peck Law Group by calling 866-999-9085. If a senior is in immediate danger,
call 911. Take a stand against this problem. Education is the first step in creating safe and
comfortable environments for our elders in assisted living facilities.

Understanding elder abuse and neglect infographic - 5 things everyone can do to prevent elder absue: learn the signs, send letters to local media to raise awareness, prevent isolation, sign up to be a friendly visitor, talk to friends and family members. Financial abuse costs between $2.6 and $36.5 billion annually. 64.2% of institutional health staff admitted to elder abuse. 1 in 10 Americans 60+ have experienced elder abuse.

My Grandmother’s Experience

Due to my Grandmother’s worsening dementia, my family moved across the country to
live with her. Having us in her home, though she often forgot how long we’d been there, my
Grandma had more regular social interaction, and we could monitor her health and help get her to appointments and activities.

Living with her was difficult and sad at times, but for over a year, it was manageable. Unfortunately, due to work and school commitments, it wasn’t always possible to take my grandma somewhere or have someone with her at the house.

After many sneaky and dangerous attempts to drive the car and a couple falls, my dad and his siblings decided that it was time for my grandma to transition to an assisted living center. Over 2% of seniors over the age of 65 in the United States reside in assisted living centers, so although it is somewhat comforting to know that other elderly individuals have gone through this change, it did not make the transition any easier for my grandma and her kids.

My dad and his siblings personally visited many assisted living centers in the area and they found that many were either too expensive or did not provide adequate levels of care and attention to the residents.

Unfortunately, after being placed in assisted living, my Grandma, while unattended for a long
period of time, had a serious fall and broke her humerus bone. After hospital visits and much
stress, my grandma was forced to be relocated to a skilled nursing facility so her needs could be met.

The lack of attentiveness to her needs caused her to endure a devastating injury and resulted
in more severe anxiety. Her health has since taken a serious decline. Sadly, 65% of Americans
who move into assisted living facilities die within one year.

Laws Relating to the Elderly Population

As is the case with many other social and political problems in the world, change must
occur first personally, then in larger communities, and then, for the most success, in a legal form.

Policy changes and laws have the power to influence individuals on a higher level and create
consequences for the negative actions of individuals.

In China, the Elderly Rights Law was enforced to, simply speaking, force adult children to visit their elderly parents regularly. Though this may not necessarily be the solution Americans need, this law questions whether we, as Americans, value our elders enough to create policy change. In 2010 in America, however, the Elder Justice Act was enacted to help protect the elderly against elder abuse and neglect. Among other things, this law authorizes grants to support improvements to Adult Protective Services and Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs – an evident sign that positive change has and can
continue to take place.

Moving Forward

Recognizing the signs and risk factors for elder abuse and neglect “can assist nurse
practitioners in developing appropriate interventions for this serious problem.” Education is the
first step in reversing the statistics for elder abuse. Once informed, it is important to raise
awareness for this problem. If you don’t know where to start, Celebrate World Elder Abuse
Awareness Day on June 15th and get more information from The National Center on Elder
Abuse. We can change this problem for our seniors now and secure a safe future for ourselves.


1) Rounds, L. (1992), Elder Abuse and Neglect: A Relationship to Health Characteristics.
Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 4: 47-52.
2) Samuels, C. (n.d.). Assisted living statistics: Population & facilities in 2022. A Place for
Mom. Retrieved December 28, 2022, from
3) Heiser, D. and Brownell, P. (2010). Elder Abuse and Neglect. In The Corsini
Encyclopedia of Psychology (eds I.B. Weiner and W.E. Craighead).
4) What is the difference between assisted living and nursing homes? Five star senior living.
Five Star Senior Living. (2021, June 10). Retrieved December 28, 2022, from
5) DomesticShelters.org. (2022, December 28). 5 Signs of Elder Abuse.
DomesticShelters.org. Retrieved December 28, 2022, from

6) The Peck Law Group Elder Abuse and Neglect Scholarship. PLG Nursing Home Abuse
& Neglect Injury Attorneys in California. (2022, October 14). Retrieved December 28,
2022, from https://premierlegal.org/elder-abuse-neglect-infographic-scholarship/
7) Martinez-Carter, K. (2015, January 10). How the elderly are treated around the world.
The Week. Retrieved December 28, 2022, from
8) Tokar, S. (2022, December 19). Social Support is key to nursing home length of stay
before death. Social Support is Key to Nursing Home Length of Stay Before Death | UC
San Francisco. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from
9) The Peck Law Group $1000 elder abuse and neglect scholarship. PLG Nursing Home
Abuse & Neglect Injury Attorneys in California. (2022, October 14). Retrieved
December 29, 2022, from

About the Author

Mia Knight is our 2023 Peck Law Group Article Scholarship winner.

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