Death Scene

Elder Death Scenes

If the death is suspicious, consider whether elder abuse contributed to the death or if the death if suspicious, consider the causal role of elder abuse.

Observe for signs of death by physical abuse or neglect.

Signs Of Death By Elder Abuse Are…

  • Unclean or uninhabitable quarters
  • Soiled sheets and mattress (check underside of mattress)
  • Spoiled food in the refrigerator, or insufficient food
  • Bruised eyes and/or eyelids
  • Untrimmed and curled fingernails
  • Injuries to the decedent’s body, including bed sores, bruising, fractures
  • Emaciated, sunken body
  • Expired medications or empty medication bottles

If You Suspect Elder Abuse At A Death Scene, Ask…

  • Is the living space appropriate for the older adult, given their medical condition(s) and level of independent functioning?
  • Could the decedent use a telephone? Is it within reach?
  • Ask open-ended questions such as “What happened?”
  • Does the story fit? Is it believable?
  • When was the last doctor’s visit? Who was the doctor? (Verify with the medical office.)
  • If the decedent was ill, did the caregiver seek medical attention? Show adequate concern?
  • Is the caregiver knowledgeable about the decedent’s medical problems?

If You Suspect Elder Abuse…

  • Use the First Responder Checklist to document AND DESCRIBE the decedent’s body and conditions of the home/environment.
  • Take photographs of any physical injuries, as well as the living quarters. (See Photo Tips.)
  • Take witness accounts and caregiver statements about the decedent’s health and well-being prior to death. (See Interviewing Older Adults.)
  • Cross report to local ombudsman program, if the decedent is in a nursing home or long-term care program. (See Community Resource Referral.)
  • Explore and document the possibility of all types of elder abuse (financial, sexual, physical, neglect).