What To Do When You Suspect Elder Abuse

Midnight Sun Home Care is dedicated to providing the safest and most comfortable care to our elder clients. This involves addressing the very real threat of elder abuse.  This month’s blog posts will focus on helping elders and their loved ones to recognize, prevent and end elder abuse. 


It can be very upsetting and confusing when you realize that you are seeing signs of elder abuse. But, it’s important that you not let your own feelings dictate how you respond to those signs and your subsequent suspicions. An elder’s well-being, and sometimes their life, can depend on someone advocating for them by taking action.

Of course, it’s important to take actions that help prevent abuse, to start with:

  1.  Pay Attention. Watch for warning signs and become more vigilant if you see anything that appears not quite right.
  2. Look More Closely. If you are close enough to the elder, take time to look more closely at their circumstances. For example: Are their medications all in order—with the amount in the bottle meeting the date on it? What about financial statements—can you look at them for unauthorized transactions?
  3. Visit Frequently. Make a point of spending more time with the elder and establishing yourself as a trusted confidante.
  4. Provide Caregiver Relief. Giving a caregiver a break not only helps them to refuel and recalibrate, it also opens up the door for any possible abuse to come to light.


If You Suspect Abuse

Of course, the first thing to do if you believe someone is in immediate danger is to call 911 or your local police department.

If you are an elder who is being abused or exploited, tell someone—whether a friend, doctor or family member—it should be someone you trust. There are also helplines to call. In Alaska, the number is 907-269-3666.

If you are seeing signs of abuse, but no immediate danger, you need to tell someone who can help. Usually, that means that you should report it. In the state of Alaska (and across the country) you can call your local branch of Adult Protective Services, 1-800-478-9996.

However, some people don’t feel comfortable reporting abuse—for many reasons. Or perhaps they are unable to. Even though it is best for you to report what you see, if you can’t, it’s still important to tell someone.  Often, there are people in the elders’ life who are mandated reporters.  These are people whose occupations require, by law, that they report suspected abuse. This can include:

  •  Licensed health care providers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Teachers and other education staff
  • Pharmacists
  • Nursing home, residential care and health facility administrators
  • Home health aides
  • Emergency medical services personnel
  • Law enforcement personnel
  • In-home care professionals
  • Social workers
  • Clergy; and so on.

You can find a complete list on the Alaska state website.


When You Report Suspected Abuse

There are certain pieces of information you will need to provide when you call to make a report and they include:

  • The elder’s name
  • The elder’s address and contact information
  • Details about why you are concerned (this is why it is best for you to call, instead of someone who is getting the info secondhand from you). Those details can include medical problems or changes in behavior, the type of family and social support the person has and any signs or evidence that you’ve seen.  The more specific you are the better.
  • You might also be asked to provide your name and contract information, but most states will allow you to remain anonymous if you prefer.


What to Know

When you make a report, APS will likely assign a caseworker to investigate.  But, it’s important that you understand that an elder can refuse services, if they are still capable of making their own decisions. It is a sad fact that some seniors may not want to admit they are being abused, for reasons that include:

  • Being afraid that the abuser (often the caregiver) will retaliate
  • Worrying about who will take care of them if their caregiver is removed

But don’t let that deter you, and if future instances of abuse or indicators arise, do not hesitate to report them. Each report will provide additional information that is valuable to portraying a more complete picture of what needs to be addressed. By doing so, you are giving that elder a better chance at getting the level of care they deserve and need.

If you ever suspect elder abuse, or you know someone who suspects abuse, this information should help you take action to make a critical difference in an elder’s life.


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