Elder Abuse

"There are over 5 million elder abuse victims in the United States. That is more than the combined total of child abuse victims and domestic violence victims." That is the opening statement for this 2016 episode of Nashville Public Television's Aging Matters, and it is a sobering one.

Elder abuse is a growing problem. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) defines elder abuse as "intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or 'trusted' individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. In many states, younger adults with disabilities may qualify for the same services and protections. Physical abuse; neglect; emotional or psychological abuse; financial abuse and exploitation; sexual abuse; and abandonment are considered forms of elder abuse. In many states, self-neglect is also considered mistreatment. 

What Should You Do If You Suspect Abuse?

Concerned people, like you, can spot the warning signs of a possible problem, and make a call for help if an elder is in need of assistance. Most cases of elder abuse go undetected. Don't assume someone else has already reported a suspicious situation. And don't think that it's up to you to prove abuse. If something seems wrong, just report what you know to the proper authorities. Let them investigate.

By law in Tennessee, everyone is a mandatory reporter. If you think an older adult is being abused, you are required to tell someone.

Reporting Abuse: Who You Should Tell

In an emergency, always call 911 first.

Adult Protective Services (APS) 24/7
1-888-APS-TENN or 1-888-277-8366

You can also report online to Tennessee Adult Protective Services, using a form provided by the Department of Human Services. Additionally, if you have suspicions or want to verify that a person isn't already on record, visit the Tennessee Department of Health's Abuse Registry to search by name or social security number.

Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline

Tennessee Long-Term Care Ombudsman (For institutional abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility.)
Teresa Teeple
State Long-Term Care Ombudsman
Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability
Andrew Jackson Building, 9th Floor
502 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-0860
Tel: 615-925-1552
Fax: 615-741-3309
Toll Free: 877-236-0013
TDD: 615-532-3893
Email: teresa.teeple@tn.gov

Family Justice Centers

Knoxville and Memphis both host what are known as Family Justice Centers, places where victims of domestic violence and abuse can hopefully find everything they need under one roof: police, lawyers, medical assistance, planning, and safe options to relocate, to name a few. Chattanooga, Cookeville, and Nashville were awarded, in 2013, funding to create their own Family Justice Centers. As of June 2015, those are in various stages of development depending upon the city.

If you live in one of these areas and need help, a Family Justice Center may have what you need. 


This Family Justice Center  is open as of July 2015 and is located at 3rd Floor City Hall, 101 E. 11th Street. Operating hours are Monday-Friday 8:00 am-4:30 pm. The local domestic violence and sexual assault crisis hotline is 423-755-2700 and is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In an emergency, dial 911.


​The Upper Cumberland Family Justice Center  is open as of July 2015 and is located at 269 S. Willow Ave., Suite E. Operating hours will initially be 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Monday through Wednesday. Contact the center at 931-528-1512 or toll free 866-704-1080. In an emergency, dial 911.


This Family Justice Center  is open as of July 2015 and is located at 400 Harriet Tubman Street. Operating hours are Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. The 24/7 Family Violence Helpline is 865-521-6336 and is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In an emergency, dial 911.


The Family Safety Center  is open as of July 2015 and is located at 1750 Madison Avenue, Suite 600. Operating hours are Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The 24-Hour Crisis Line is 901-222-4400. In an emergency, dial 911.


The Jean Crowe Advocacy Center is located at 100 James Robertson Parkway, Suite 114, Nashville, TN 37201. Operating hours are Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. The 24-hour hotline is 615-862-4767. The center can also be reached for non-emergencies by fax at 615-862-4768 or email at jeancroweadvocacycenter@nashville.gov

*Nashville has a larger Family Justice Center in development. Read more in Nashville's The Tennessean. In an emergency, dial 911.

How to determine if a job applicant has committed abuse:
Department of Health Abuse Registry
The Tennessee Department of Health is required by state law and federal regulations to maintain a registry of persons who have abused, neglected, or misappropriated personal property. Allegations of abuse, neglect, or misappropriation of personal property against individuals are investigated thoroughly. Substantiated complaints are referred to the Office of General Counsel for review and processing.
Contact information for the registry:
Tennessee Department of Health
Elderly or Vulnerable Abuse Registry
227 French Landing, Suite 501
Heritage Place MetroCenter
Nashville, TN 37243

Research indicates that one in ten American elders is affected by abuse. Unfortunately, elder abuse can happen in all types of relationships as a result of family dynamics, caregiver interactions, or targeted scams that prey on vulnerability. Only through YOU can we make progress in changing the statistics and addressing the abuse that is occurring.

Domestic elder abuse generally refers to any of the following types of mistreatment that are committed by someone with whom the elder has a special relationship (for example, a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver).

Institutional abuse generally refers to any of the following types of mistreatment occurring in residential facilities (such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, group home, board and care facility, foster home, etc.) and is usually perpetrated by someone with a legal or contractual obligation to provide some element of care or protection.

Elder abuse can affect people of all ethnic backgrounds and social status and can affect both men and women. The following types of abuse are commonly accepted as the major categories of elder mistreatment:

  • Physical Abuse—Inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need
  • Emotional Abuse—Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts
  • Sexual Abuse—Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind, coercing an elder to witness sexual behaviors
  • Exploitation—Illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder.
  • Neglect—Refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder
  • Abandonment—The desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person

Although there are distinct types of abuse defined, it is not uncommon for an elder to experience more than one type of mistreatment at the same or different times. For example, a person financially exploiting an elder may also be neglecting to provide appropriate care, food, medication, etc. Visit the Types of Abuse section to learn more about the types of elder abuse.

This information was provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse. 

While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some indicators that there could be a problem are:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse, as can unexplained sexually transmitted diseases, broken bones, welts, cuts, sores or burns
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs

It’s important to remain alert. Suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in a person's personality, behavior, or physical condition, you should begin asking questions.

This information was provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse. 

Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation. You should be concerned over:

  • A lack of basic necessities a victim could afford
  • A vulnerable elder or adult "voluntarily" giving unusually large gifts of money or large payments for needed care or companionship
  • A caregiver with control of an elder's money but who fails to provide for the elder's needs
  • A vulnerable senior or adult who signs property transfers or official documents but clearly cannot understand what those documents mean or what they have done

Abuse isn't limited to hitting and stealing. Harm can follow from extreme control or words and behavior chosen to make a person feel worthless and powerless. Look for:

  • Changes in behavior that make no sense or that have no obvious reason, such as withdrawal from normal activities or changes in alertness
  • A caregiver who isolates an elder (doesn't let anyone into the home or allow people to speak to the elder)
  • A caregiver who is verbally aggressive or demeaning, controlling, overly concerned about spending money, or who appears unconcerned for the person under their care

Tragically, sometimes elders neglect their own care, which can lead to illness or injury. Self-neglect can include behaviors such as:

  • Hoarding of objects, newspapers/magazines, mail/paperwork, etc., and/or animal hoarding to the extent that the safety of the individual (and/or other household or community members) is threatened or compromised
  • Failure to provide adequate food and nutrition for oneself, including dehydration
  • Failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness
  • Lack of medical aids (glasses, walker, teeth, hearing aid, medications)
  • Person with dementia left unsupervised
  • Lack of basic hygiene, adequate food, or clean and appropriate clothing
  • Not wearing suitable clothing for the weatherInability to attend to housekeeping, or a home that is cluttered, filthy, in disrepair, or that displays fire or safety hazards
  • Person confined to bed is left without care, or displays untreated pressure "bed" sores (pressure ulcers)

Self-neglect is one of the most frequently reported concerns brought to adult protective services. Often the problem is paired with declining health, isolation, Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or drug and alcohol dependency.

In some of these cases, elders will be connected to supports in the community that can allow them to continue living on their own. Some conditions like depression and malnutrition may be successfully treated through medical intervention. If the problems are severe enough, a guardian may be appointed.

This information was provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse. 

Content Details
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Source Organization: National Center on Elder Abuse Capture Date: 2015-05-26