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Could behavioral changes be warning signs for elder abuse?

The National Council on Aging estimates that 10% of Americans over the age of 60 experience abuse, and looking for signs of that abuse can be vital in protecting your loved ones. Often, behavioral changes are the first sign that something is wrong in the home of our loved ones. These changes can also reveal emotional abuse which may not otherwise leave evidence.

Why are changes of behavior significant?

We want to believe that our loved ones can discuss anything with us. However, the truth is that many victims may not be able to discuss the abuse they face even with the people they trust most. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), elderly people may not discuss their abuse for a variety of reasons. These include shame, fear of retaliation and physical or mental inability to communicate because of decline in their later years.

What changes of behavior should you look for?

Because our loved ones cannot always tell us that something is wrong, it is important to be aware of changes in their behavior. According to the American Society for Aging, behavioral signs that could indicate abuse include:

  • Apathy and withdrawn behavior
  • Fear and anxiety, including fear of being touched
  • Anger
  • Exaggerated startle responses
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Nervousness around a specific person
  • Sucking, rocking or biting and other unusual behaviors
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Stress-related physical complaints like stomachaches or headaches.

Unfortunately, many of these behavioral changes could also be signs of dementia in your loved one’s later years. This makes it especially important to pay close attention to your loved one’s situation if you notice changes in their behavior. Their safety could depend on paying close attention to behavioral changes, reporting your suspicions and taking legal action.


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