Know Elder Abuse—and how to Prevent It

By Norah Al-Wetaid and Nathan Lamb

Roughly 10 percent of older adults have experienced some form of elder abuse—but a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health estimates that only one out of every 14 instances of elder abuse are reported to authorities.

To put it another way, elder abuse is a widespread problem, which often goes unchecked across our nation, state, and even our local community. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

June is National Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and in an effort to help raise awareness about this silent epidemic, Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) marked the occasion by distributing information about elder abuse to agency staff, clients, and many services agencies in the community.

Elder Abuse Awareness 2017
Staffers at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services are helping to raise awareness about elder abuse by wearing purple ribbons and sharing information about how to identify and report elder abuse. 

Elder abuse has long been a silent epidemic. We can change that, if we as a community know about elder abuse and how to get help when we see it.

Adult Protective Services (PS) programs across the state are working every day to alleviate elder abuse and neglect of older adults (60 years and older). They work collaboratively with older adults, their families, and community agencies to help reduce risk, through crisis intervention, safety planning, and connecting people with helpful resources.

The thing is, PS only gets involved when abuse is reported—so awareness of this issue is key. If we are serious about reducing the frequency of abuse older adults experience, we all need to Know Elder Abuse.

Here’s the basics: elder abuse takes many forms. It can be physical, emotional, sexual, or financial.  It also includes neglect and self-neglect. It is important to understand that elder abuse affects people across all income levels, cultures, gender, and races.

Would you know elder abuse if you saw it? Here are some common signs of abuse:

  • Unexplained financial loss
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Isolation
  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats
  • Changes in mood of behavior
  • Rapid decline in health
  • Sudden confusion
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Neglecting care needs
  • Hesitation to speak openly.


Suspect elder abuse? The Executive Office of Elder Affairs has established a centralized elder abuse hotline (1-800-922-2275), which operates 24/7 and refers elder abuse cases to local Protective Service programs. Reporter’s names are kept confidential.


Norah Al-Wetaid is a Senior Protective Services Caseworker at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES). Nathan Lamb is Director of Outreach and Community Relations at SCES.