Each year hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited by family members and others. Many victims are people who are older, frail, and vulnerable and cannot help themselves and depend on others to meet their most basic needs.
What is elder abuse?
Elder abuse is an umbrella term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.
What did the 2004 Survey of State Adult Protective Services find?
The survey was funded by Administration on Aging and found:
A 19.7 percent increase from 2000 – 2004 in the combined total of reports of elder and vulnerable adult abuse and neglect;
A 15.6 percent increase from 2000 – 2004 in substantiated cases;
In 20 of the states, more than two in five victims (42.8%) were age 80 or older;
Most alleged perpetrators in 2003 were adult children (32.6%) or other family members (21.5%), and spouses/intimate partners accounted for 11.3% of the total (11 states responding).
What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse?
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, social isolation and mental impairment (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease) are two factors that may make an older person more vulnerable to abuse. But, in some situations, studies show that living with someone else (a caregiver or a friend) may increase the chances for abuse to occur. A history of domestic violence may also make a senior more susceptible to abuse.
What should you do if you see or hear of abuse?
If you see someone being physically hurt or threatened with a weapon, call a law enforcement emergency line such as 911. Be part of their “safety plan,” the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life recommends. A safety plan is created by the victim with the help of a professional. The intent is to plan for a victim’s safety needs before another violent episode erupts. If you believe they are in immediate danger, call 911.
Are there criminal penalties for the abusers?
It is a violation of State and Federal law for any person, including facility staff, volunteers, visitors, family members or guardians, or another resident, to neglect or abuse a resident.
Although there are variations across the country, in most states there are several laws that address criminal penalties for various types of elder abuse. Laws vary state to state. Some states have increased penalties for those who victimize older adults. Increasingly, across the country, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors are trained on elder abuse and ways to use criminal and civil laws to bring abusers to justice.
To learn more about the elderly:
- The National Clearninghouse on Abuse in Later Life has useful resources for preventing elder abuse.
- The Foundation Aiding The Elderly serves as a voice for patients and to bring about national reforms.
- The Administration on Aging website is designed to provide a comprehensive overview of a wide variety of topics, programs and services related to aging.
- You can locate elder care facilities throught the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging.
About the Author
Attorney Steven Peck has been practicing law since 1981. A former successful business owner, Mr. Peck initially focused his legal career on business law. Within the first three years, after some colleagues and friend’s parents endured nursing home neglect and elder abuse, he continued his education to begin practicing elder law and nursing home abuse law.