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Physical Abuse Of The Elderly For Family Members And Carers


What is physical abuse of the elderly?

Physical abuse occurs when a carer harms an elder or places him in danger. A carer may be a family member or someone who is responsible for caring for the elder. The carer may hit, slap, kick, push, pull hair, burn, or force feed the elder. The carer may also give him the wrong amount of medicine. Physical abuse also includes sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is when someone has sexual contact with the elder without his consent. Physical abuse can happen in the elder's own home, the carer's home, or a facility, such as a nursing home.

What causes physical abuse of an elder?

The exact cause of physical abuse of an elder is not known. Poor or crowded living conditions may be one of the reasons why it occurs. The following may increase the elder's risk of physical abuse:

  • He has learning or memory problems.
  • He has a long-term condition, such as dementia, diabetes, paralysis, or stroke.
  • He has no relatives or friends who can take care of him.
  • He has difficulty getting along with others.
  • The carer depends heavily on the elder for things such as money or housing.
  • The carer drinks alcohol or uses illegal drugs.
  • The carer has a personality disorder, depression, or another mental illness.
  • The carer has a history of family violence, such as physical or sexual abuse.
  • The carer has stress due to work, taking care of the elder, or financial problems.

What are the signs and symptoms of physical abuse of an elder?

  • Repeated falls or injuries, or old injuries that were not treated when they happened
  • Scratches, bite marks, or marks from objects used for restraining, such as belts, ropes, or electrical cords
  • Broken or dislocated bones
  • Cuts or bruises, especially on both upper arms (grab marks)
  • Scars or burns from cigarettes, irons, or hot water
  • Blood or discharge coming from the nose, mouth, or genitals

How is physical abuse of an elder diagnosed?

The elder's healthcare provider will examine his body closely for injuries caused by physical abuse. A healthcare provider will ask the elder if he has been hit, slapped, injured, or touched sexually without his consent. Healthcare providers may also want to know who the abuser is, and how long the abuse has been happening.

  • Blood and urine tests: Blood and urine tests may be done to check for health problems, such as malnutrition or infection.
  • Pelvic exam: Women may need to have this exam so healthcare providers can check for any injuries that may have resulted from the abuse.
  • Culture and smear exam: A sample of discharge may be collected from the genitals, and sent to a lab for tests.
  • X-rays: X-rays may show if any bones are broken or out of place. X-rays of the elder's chest and abdomen may also be taken.

How is physical abuse of an elder treated?

An elder that has been physically abused may be placed in an adult day care. Special services may be offered to ensure his safety and health.

  • Counseling: Physical abuse may cause the elder to feel scared, depressed, or anxious. The elder's healthcare provider may suggest that he see a counselor to talk about how he is feeling.
  • Medicines: Healthcare providers may give the elder medicine to help ease his pain. He may need antibiotic medicine or a tetanus shot if there is an open wound. Medicines may also be given if he has other medical conditions.
  • Surgery: The elder may need surgery to treat injuries. Surgery may return bones to their normal position if there is a broken bone. Surgery may also be needed to correct a deformity or treat other injuries.

What are the risks of physical abuse of an elder?

The elder may bleed or get an infection if he has surgery to treat his wounds, fractures, or other injuries. If left untreated, he may develop serious health and emotional problems. Repeated physical abuse may lead to severe injuries or death. He may also become depressed.

How can I help the elder?

  • Report physical abuse: It may be hard to report physical abuse, but it is very important. Healthcare providers can help the elder if he is at risk for or is a victim of physical abuse.
  • Attend follow-up visits with the elder: A healthcare provider may talk to you, the elder, his family, friends, or those who should be held responsible for physical abuse. This may include what may happen if physical abuse does not stop.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Center on Elder Abuse
    101 The City Drive South 200 Building
    Orange , CA 92868
    Phone: 1- 855 - 500-3537
    Web Address:

When should I contact the elder's healthcare provider?

  • The elder cannot get to his next office visit.
  • The elder has new signs and symptoms.
  • You or the elder has questions or concerns about his condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care for the elder or call 911?

  • The elder feels like hurting himself or someone else.
  • The elder feels that he cannot cope with the abuse, or his recovery from it.
  • The elder has shortness of breath, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

Care Agreement

The elder has the right to help plan his own care. To help with this plan, he must learn about his health condition, and how it may be treated. He can then discuss treatment options with his healthcare providers. Working with them will help to decide what care and treatment may be used. The elder always has the right to refuse treatment.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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