Baylor Gerontology Expert: Signs that Your Loved One is Suffering Elder Abuse

Baylor Gerontology Expert: Signs that Your Loved One is Suffering Elder Abuse

October 22, 20183 min read

Each year, an estimated 5 million older adults are abused, neglected or exploited, according to the Administration for Community Living.

Gerontology expert James Ellor, Ph.D., M.Div., professor in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, shares what elder abuse looks like and how people can respond if they see the signs.

Reports of abuse are most often submitted by family members, hospital staff and law enforcement. But churches and other organizations should also be diligent, Ellor said, adding that clergy are considered mandatory reporters in many states.

“No one group of caring persons can solve this problem alone; it takes a community of caring lay and professional leaders to even try to start to make a difference,” Ellor said. “If signs are noticeable, the next steps will depend on the type of abuse. In most cases, counseling support is critical, but often the need for medical help or legal help is also very important.”

Elder abuse – intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual – comes in many forms: neglect or isolation, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation or financial abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, verbal abuse and threats.

Physical Abuse

Like any other form of physical abuse, physical abuse incudes odd bruising, broken bones or contusions that are not easily explained, Ellor said. One sign that quickly raises suspicion is when broken bones or bruises happen repeatedly. Drug overdoses or the withholding of drugs are also challenging.

Emotional abuse

Ellor said this could include yelling at the senior, humiliating him or her, blaming and/or scapegoating.

Sexual abuse

“This is contact without consent,” Ellor said. “We see this often between spouses, particularly when one spouse has dementia.”


“Possibly one of the most common categories, it simply means not taking the time to respond to a wide variety of needs when one is the designated caregiver,” Ellor said.

Financial exploitation

“Laws governing guardianship and power of attorney try to address this, but family members who take money from seniors as cash or property are the most common culprits,” Ellor explained.


This can involve financial exploitation or even heath care fraud, but it generally involves either over-charging, selling unnecessary benefits of something, or it may include trying to sell something that would benefit one’s children, Ellor said.


“Some seniors simply choose to not help themselves, often in the name of leaving money or property to family members,” Ellor said. “Evidence of this could be that they don’t purchase needed medications or other resources.”

Report suspected mistreatment to local adult protective services, long-term care ombudsman or law enforcement agencies that can investigate the situation.

ALSO READ: "Gerontology Expert: Six Questions You Should Ask Before Choosing a Nursing Home"

SEE: Baylor University's Directory of Faculty Experts


James Ellor, Ph.D., M.Div., is a professor in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work. Ellor works with older adults around issues of mental and spiritual health. He has served on the executive committee of the Midwestern Geriatric Education Center and provided education, counseling and planning for individuals and groups who work with seniors. His research includes work in entrostomal therapy, hunger, the church as service provider, spiritual assessment and intervention techniques with cognitively impaired older adults.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work is home to one of the leading graduate social work programs in the nation with a research agenda focused on the integration of faith and practice. Upholding its mission of preparing social workers in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership, the School offers a baccalaureate degree (B.S.W.), a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree and three joint-degree options, M.S.W./M.B.A., M.S.W./M.Div. and M.S.W./M.T.S., through a partnership with Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business and George W. Truett Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. program. Visit to learn more.

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