First On The Scene

Could it be Elder Abuse?

When you encounter an elderly adult with visible bruising or who appears undernourished, could there be more going on than what meets the eye?

Any time there’s a senior citizen involved in the immediate call
– even if they’re not the ones directly implicated –
consider elder abuse.

Ensure the Elder’s Safety

Take the following steps to ensure the older adult is safe.

Is the elder at risk of further harm or endangerment if left in the situation?

! If yes, identify safe options for the elder:

  • elder shelters
  • relatives
  • domestic violence shelters

Is the elder medically unstable?

Establish baseline condition. Is their physical condition changed or worse? Are they less alert, less mobile, lethargic, not communicating well?

! If yes, arrange a medical evaluation for the elder.

If living alone, is the elder able to ensure their basic independent living requirements?

Can they see to their own food, shelter and hygiene? Are they able to respond to emergencies appropriately such as calling 911 for fire?

! If no, consider a medical evaluation or 5150 for endangerment to self or others.

Scan the Environment

Do a quick, but thorough, search of the older adult’s environment.

The following may be clues pointing to elder abuse.


  • Is the environment cluttered?
  • Is the garbage overflowing?
  • Is bedding or furniture soiled?
  • “Yes” answers suggest possible Neglect


  • Are the entrance and the inside dwelling free from obstruction?
  • Is there rotten food around?
  • Do you see evidence of rodents, including droppings?
  • “Yes” answers suggest possible Neglect

! Find local hoarding task force, Code Enforcement

Fall Risk

  • Is the older adult at risk of tripping or not being able to get around obstacles?
  • Are there stairs or hazards that create a fall risk?
  • Does the older adult have vision impairment or mobility problems?
  • “Yes” answers suggest possible Neglect

Animals & Children

If children or animals are present,

! Much abuse is intergenerational.

! Abuse of animals is strongly associated with abuse of people.

Interview Potential Victims & Abusers

With officer safety in mind, ask about when, where and how the elder is most comfortable being interviewed.

! Always interview alleged victim alone.

! Speak to the alleged victim apart from the alleged abuser and others whose intentions are unknown.

! Intimidation by the alleged abuser is always a concern.


Elders may be more alert at different times of the day depending on medical conditions such as dementia and/or medications. Find out:

  • When is a good time of day to answer questions?
  • If possible, ask client and caregiver beforehand if the elder experiences any impairing side effects from medication. If so, request a list or photo of the medications.

Assistance Devices

  • Do they require glasses? If so, are they on?
  • Do they require a hearing aid(s)? If so, are they on and working?
  • Do they require dentures? If so, are they in?

Communication Tips

  • Speak clearly, slowly and in short sentences
  • Verify preferred language
  • Assess understanding – “What did I just ask about?”
  • Sit and establish eye contact
  • Avoid multiple ideas in one question, present just one idea at a time
  • DO interview victims with dementia
  • For those who are nonverbal:
  • Consider writing questions and answers
  • Consider asking them to nod for yes/no after establishing understanding (example: nodding ‘yes’ to a known positive fact, or ‘no’ to a known negative fact)