Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse – How To Spot It

November 6, 2014 Abuse and Neglect Attorney

Elderly and vulnerable adult abuse is a growing problem in communities all across Michigan. According to Michigan’s Adult Protective Services, instances of elder abuse have more than doubled in just a few years.

This increase is concerning to law enforcement officials and senior citizen advocates. “People are reporting it more,” says Judy Sivak, the director of Kalamazoo County’s Agency on Aging. She also says that officials believe abuse of vulnerable adults is grossly underreported.

Adult abuse can take many forms. It can include financial exploitation or neglect, physical abuse, and even sexual abuse. Counties across Michigan tend to prosecute only a handful of cases on an annual basis.

Following is a list of crimes where elderly people are often victims. By taking note of the circumstances that surround these types of crimes, more situations of abuse can be identified and stopped.

Financial Abuse / Exploitation

In these instances an elderly person or vulnerable adult may be coerced or threatened into signing property transfer papers, creating a new will with a new beneficiary, or writing out substantial checks to a certain person on a regular basis.

Another sign is if a caregiver has control of an elderly person’s money but the daily needs are not being properly met. Or perhaps the elderly person is not able to afford basic items even though they should be able to do so. These are both indicators of possible financial abuse or exploitation.


In this setting the vulnerable adult is not being properly cared for and basic daily needs are not being met. A recent case in Huron County was a horrific example of this type of abuse. A lack of enough food, clean clothing that is appropriate, and basic hygiene are all abuse indications. Or there may be a filthy home, the victim may not have access to necessary items like hearing aides, a walker, a wheelchair or glasses. These may also be signs of caregiver neglect. Untreated or rapidly developing bed sores can also indicate neglect. While “bed sore” may sound innocent, it is really a terrible wound that begins at bone level. The result is decaying flesh and agonizing pain.

Psychological / Emotional Abuse

When an elderly person undergoes a distinct change in behavior or level of alertness but a doctor is not able to find the cause, such as dementia or illness, this is a classic symptom of psychological abuse. When a caregiver isolates an elderly person, refusing visitors or outside contact, or is overly controlling of finances or personal freedoms, this may indicate a possibly abusive situation.

Physical / Sexual Abuse

While physical abuse is sometimes easy to spot and to prove, sexual abuse can be hard. The elderly are sometimes unable to explain what has happened to them due to diminished cognitive function. And for those who are aware, it brings extreme shame. However, unexplained sexually transmitted diseases can indicate sexual abuse. Physical abuse is more common and easier to identify -severe bruising, bone fractures, wounds that defy explanation, like burns and lacerations, can all be signs of physical abuse.

Suspect Abuse? Report it

If you suspect elderly or vulnerable adult abuse, we encourage you to contact Adult Protective Services and report it.  Together, we can make all of our communities safer places to live.