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10 Signs of Physical Elder Abuse and What to Do Next

older woman trying to hide physical elder abuse with sunglasses

Each year in the United States, 1 in 10 adults over 60 suffer some form of elder abuse at home. What’s more, a staggering 1 in 6 who live in a community setting also experience maltreatment. With the population quickly aging, these statistics are on the fast track to worsen over the next several years. Though grossly underreported, the cases of physical elder abuse, one of the most common forms, are rapidly growing each year. Abuse can take on many forms, and as such, can be difficult to spot if you’re not looking out for it. Here’s what you need to know to keep your senior loved ones safe.


What is Physical Elder Abuse?

elder abuse

Physical elder abuse is when physical pain or injury is inflicted upon an older adult. This means things like hitting, kicking, pinching, shoving, or even burning.

What are the Ramifications?

sad hospital patient

Physical abuse can result in minor cuts and bruising, or more seriously, broken bones, disabilities, and even death. The CDC reports that from 2002 to 2016, more than 643,000 older adults were treated in emergency rooms for nonfatal assaults and an astounding 19,000-plus homicides occurred. Keep in mind that these are just the reported cases. Thousands more incidents occur each year that go unreported.


In addition to outward indications, physical abuse can also leave lasting emotional and psychological effects. Many victims feel anxious, depressed, or fearfulness that doesn’t subside.

Risk Factors for Physical Elder Abuse

wheelchair bound senior

While any senior may be abused, some older adults run a greater risk than others. Some common risk factors for physical elder abuse are:

According to the NCOA, “in almost 60% of elder abuse or neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.”

10 Signs of Physical Elder Abuse

bruise on the arm of an older adult. signs of physical elder abuse
  1. Bruises, black eyes, unexplained cuts or lacerations
  2. Fractured or broken bones
  3. Sprains or dislocations
  4. Injuries in various stages of healing
  5. Hesitation or changing stories about injuries
  6. Sudden, unexplained change in relationships (i.e., suddenly acting afraid of someone, or unwilling to interact as usual)
  7. Caregiver refusal to allow visitors
  8. Sudden change in personality or behavior; withdrawal from social activities they normally enjoy
  9. Lab findings of overdosed medication or under-used prescriptions
  10. Broken eyeglasses, overturned furniture (that the victim could not have possibly done themself), or other physical signs of being subjected to punishment, or signs of being restrained

If You Suspect Your Senior Loved One is a Victim of Physical Abuse, Here’s What to Do Next

get help word blocks

If you suspect elder abuse in any form, whether it’s at home, within a community, or in a nursing facility, here are some next steps you can take:

  • Listen to older adults who report injuries, unexplained illnesses, or other red flags
  • Take all concerns from your loved ones, family members, or anyone else who may report maltreatment seriously
  • Call 9-1-1 if in immediate danger
  • Connect with an ombudsman (representatives for residents)
  • Connect with a primary physician or emergency department

You must report elder abuse to prevent it. If you or somebody you know is in immediate danger, call 911. If the victim is not in immediate danger, but there are signs of abuse, notify Adult Protective Services.

More Help

elderly woman holding a magnifying glass

For more help with elder abuse topics, start here:

To find an elder law attorney, start here:

Additional senior resources:


Originally published April 28, 2023

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