Aging is natural; Abuse is not

Elder abuse is any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. We may think that elder abuse does not happen in our state, but the fact is that it occurs nationwide.

– In North Dakota, during 2017, Vulnerable Adult Protective Services (VAPS) took more than 2000 reports.

– About one in four of the alleged victims have some form of dementia.

– Two-thirds of perpetrators of elder abuse are family members, trusted individuals and/or caregivers.

– 90% of financial exploitation is committed by family members or trusted others.

– Only 4.5% of elder abuse occurs in facility settings.

Types of abuse can include: domestic violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect. While providing care can be stressful and lead to problems such as overeating, lack of sleep and depression, caregiver stress is NOT a cause of abuse.

Signs of abuse and/or neglect include:

– Physical – bruises, broken bones, burns, weight loss, poor hygiene, repeated “accidents”

– Sexual – bruises, bite marks, difficulty walking or sitting, unexplained sexually transmitted diseases, bloody clothing

– Spiritual – elder prevented from participating in spiritual events

– Financial – abrupt transfers, changes or Power of Attorney or will, unpaid bills, valuables removed

– Changes in behavior – strained relationships, withdrawal from normal activities, unusual depression, change in alertness

– Isolation

– Presents as “difficult”

– Has vague, chronic complaints

– Unable to follow through on treatment plans – misses appointments

– Dehydration and/or malnutrition

– Over/under medicating

– Extreme weight loss

– Decayed teeth, overgrown nails, matted hair

– Pressure ulcers

– Repeated falls

– Lack of assistive devices like hearing aids, glasses, dentures, walkers

If you suspect elder abuse is happening, ask:

– Is anyone hurting you?

– Are you afraid of anyone?

– Is anyone taking or using your money or belonging without your permission?

– Are you being disrespected?

It’s important to understand that older victims do not reach out for help for many reasons including: denial, depression, fear, cognitive impairment, incredulity of others, pride and desire to maintain their independence, shame or embarrassment, desire to protect their relatives or caregivers, cultural boundaries, belief that institutional care is the only alternative and feeling that the abuse is somehow an appropriate response.

ND law requires certain professionals to report abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults. However, anyone can make a report. If a vulnerable adult is in immediate danger, call 911 and then report concerns to VAPS by filing an online report at or call 1-855-462-5465 Option 2.