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Laws Against Taking Advantage of The Elderly

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Summary: Elder abuse involves the physical, mental, and financial abuse of seniors. All 50 states have laws in place against taking advantage of the elderly. Estimated Read Time: 10 min

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Table of Contents:

    1. What is Elder Abuse?
    2. What is Considered Elderly Abuse?
    3. What are the 7 Types of Elder Abuse?
    4. Types of abuse in Elderly
    5. Federal Laws for Taking Advantage of the Elderly
    6. What is the Most Common Form of Elder Abuse?
    7. What to do if you Suspect Elder Abuse?
    8. What Happens When You Report Someone for Elder Abuse
    9. How to Report Elderly Abuse
    10. How to Prevent Elder Abuse

14.9% of the total population of the United States is age 65 and older, and in the coming decades, projections suggest that this number will continue to increase as baby boomers reach their mid-sixties. According to the CDC, of this 14.9%, at least 1 in 10 will experience some kind of elder abuse within a given year. Thus, over 5 million individuals can benefit from laws against taking advantage of the elderly.

There are several laws in place to help avoid the manipulation of elderly adults in the United States. However, even with these laws in place, elder abuse is still a prevalent issue across the nation.

As we age, it becomes increasingly more difficult to defend ourselves against abuse from those around us. While we at MedicareFAQ never condone abuse of any kind, we do understand that it is an unfortunate reality for too many individuals across the nation. Luckily, we are here to break down the laws against elder abuse, how to report suspected crimes, and what to do if you or your loved one becomes a victim.

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is an intentional act or failure to act by a caregiver or another person with an expectation of trust that causes harm to an older adult. Elderly abuse can not only harm  the physical and mental health of the affected individual, but can also impact their relationships, financial situations, and cause tension between the individual and those around them.

Over time, research shows that individuals who have been exposed to elder abuse tend to have shorter life spans than those who do not endure abuse in their lifetime.

Elder abuse is a complex situation that can stem from various sources. Whether or not an individual has a violent past, does not indicate if they are more or less likely to experience elder abuse. Often , the abuse stems from personal problems on the caregiver’s side.

Caregiver stress, mental illness, personal crisis, and addiction to alcohol or drugs are leading contributors to elder abuse. However, older individuals may also cause self-harm that is also categorized as elder abuse. Self-harm, including self-neglect, is a prominent form of elder abuse that happens when individuals refuse to take help from others when it comes to their health and wellbeing but do not take the appropriate steps to help themselves.

If you find yourself in a situation of elder abuse, your Medicare benefits will help cover the cost of treatments, therapies, and medications to help your mental and physical injuries.

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What is Considered Elderly Abuse?

Any act, either physical or otherwise harmful to an older person in any way, is considered elder abuse. As we age, most people tend to let down their guard and expose weaknesses that predators use against you when committing elder abuse.

Elder abuse can present itself in several forms and it is likely that the victim may not even realize they are a victim until it is too late.

Some groups of seniors tend to be more susceptible to elder abuse than others. The rate of elder abuse crimes is more likely to happen in a rural area over an urban area due to the lack of resources available to seniors in these areas. However, although the rate of crime is higher, the rate of reporting is lower. Additionally, those with cognitive decline such as dementia are also at a heightened risk of elder abuse.

One of the most common types of elder abuse among these groups is the caregiver taking advantage of elderly individuals. Caregivers can be family or non-family individuals responsible for the senior’s daily care. It is easiest for the caregiver to be the perpetrator of the crime as they are the one most frequently with the victim.

Predators will also likely prey on individuals with a higher income and few family members who check on them regularly.

What are the 7 Types of Elder Abuse?

When someone in a higher authority position intentionally seeks to harm an elderly individual, this is considered elder abuse. Elder abuse is not defined by a single action or interaction, but rather the intent behind the action(s) of the individual in power.

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) breaks elder abuse into seven different categories. Understanding these seven categories of elder abuse is an essential step in protecting older adults from experiencing this abuse unknowingly.

Regardless of which of the seven categories the abuse falls into, elder abuse can lead to devastating consequences for the victim. Consequences of elder abuse can cause emotional, physical, and financial harm to older individuals and can even go as far as causing self-harm and suicide.

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Types of abuse in Elderly

There are seven different types of elder abuse as defined by the National Center on Elder Abuse. These seven types of elder abuse include:

  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Self-neglect

Psychological abuse is reportedly the most common type of elder abuse among older Americans. However, not all types of elder abuse are reported the same.

It is more likely for individuals to report financial abuse than it is for them to report emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Additionally, most elder abuse is self-reported as the abuse is commonly committed by a trusted individual or family member.

Let’s break down each of the seven different types of elder abuse.

Neglect

Neglect happens when an elderly person’s basic needs are not met, and the individual is not protected from harm resulting in serious illness or injury. In many cases, elder neglect is reported in nursing homes, more often than in private residences as the volume of individuals in the setting is higher.

Elder neglect is the result of carelessness regarding an elderly person’s wellbeing. When certain needs are not met, including proper nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, and essential medical care, this can cause serious harm to the victim.

Signs of neglect include:

  • Malnutrition or dehydration
  • Soiled clothing
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Untreated injuries or infections

Neglect can be a cause for serious health-related concerns in elderly adults and is a serious issue for the individual involved.

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Physical abuse

Physical elder abuse occurs when intestinal force is used against an elderly person. This can include hitting, shoving, pulling, kicking, scratching, or physically restraining. Physical abuse can also include providing the wrong medication dose, confining them to a particular area of their home against their will, or even physical humiliation.

Signs of physical abuse include:

  • Bruises
  • Injuries
  • Signs of restraint
  • Disorientation
  • Broken bones
  • Burns

There are many signs outside of physical injuries that can be the result of physical elder abuse. It is important to remain vigilant in these situations and report the crime as soon as possible.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse includes any kind of unwanted or forced sexual interactions with an elderly individual. Any sexual act performed without the consent of either party involved, is by definition sexual abuse. In addition to physical actions, verbal and non-touching acts can also be considered sexual abuse.

Signs of sexual abuse include:

  • Unexplained STDs or STIs
  • Bleeding from genitals
  • Pelvic injuries
  • Problems walking or sitting
  • Sudden fear of undressing

Sexual abuse can cause extreme mental health issues for those impacted, especially elderly victims. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere, including in your own home, nursing homes, or even in public.

Abandonment

Often accompanied by neglect, abandonment occurs when an elderly caregiver intentionally deserts them for long periods of time or indefinitely. A common form of abandonment occurs when a caregiver leaves their patient at a short-term facility like an emergency room, without any contact information or family members who agree to become the new sole caretaker.

Elderly individuals who rely on a caregiver for their daily needs can be at risk of serious injury if left unattended for long periods of time. This can lead to compromised safety that could result to, in extreme cases, death.

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Signs of abandonment:

  • Constant confusion
  • Poor hygiene
  • Malnutrition or dehydration
  • Unsanitary living conditions

Abandonment can leave an elderly person scared, lost, and confused. This can be extremely deteriorating to their mental well-being.

Emotional and psychological abuse

Emotional and psychological abuse are intentional acts that create mental stress, pain, or fear in older adults. Emotional and psychological abuse can look different depending on the situation. This can include slander, name calling, threats or even as extreme as manipulation and impacting their relationships with family members.

Signs of emotional and psychological abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Overly tiredness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is the improper use of an elderly person’s assets. This commonly includes unauthorized payments made to a caregiver or the individual causing the abuse. Unfortunately, financial abuse is one of the most common ways criminals take advantage of the elderly and is the most reported type of elder abuse.

Signs of financial abuse include:

  • Unpaid bills
  • Cancelled checks
  • Missing bank statements
  • Missing belongings

Financial abuse can be extremely detrimental to seniors, especially those on a fixed income.

Self-neglect

When an elderly person is no longer able to meet their basic needs on their own, but refuses help from others, this is known as self-neglect. Self-neglect is common among those who feel uncomfortable asking for help, even when it is truly needed.

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An older individual may be suffering from self-neglect if they can’t successfully do the following on their own:

  • Eat or drink
  • Dress
  • Maintain basic hygiene
  • Maintain their living areas

It is not uncommon for elderly adults to have a hard time letting go of their independence. However, there comes a time when their health and well-being are in jeopardy due to their resilient yearn for independence.

Federal Laws for Taking Advantage of the Elderly

The Patient Protection and Elder Justice Act of 2010 were the first federal legislation put in place to protect elderly citizens from all forms of elderly abuse. This legislation authorized immediate funding for Adult Protective Services and elder abuse prevention services across the U.S.

As a result of this legislation, senior care facilities across the country received more federal funding to help fill staffing needs and properly train their caregivers. It also made it illegal for care facilities to hide abuse cases without reporting.

Additionally, the Elderly Justice Act created an official Elder Justice Coordinating Council and Board of Advisors that helped oversee the implementation of the legislation across the U.S.

When it comes to legislation on the state level, each state has different penalties for elder abuse crimes. States with a higher percentage of the population over 60 often have harsher punishments for crime. However, each of the 50 states have their own set of penalties in place.

What is the Most Common Form of Elder Abuse?

Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse among elderly Americans. Financial abuse involves various tactics that can be used to exploit an elderly person’s financial resources, often leaving them with no money to cover their daily needs.

The prevalence of financial abuse among elderly individuals is often fueled by the perception of elderly people as “easy targets”. It is no secret that as we age, we tend to lose some of the cognitive ability used to determine what is and what is not proper behavior. This can be even more true when it comes to online predators. As technology rapidly evolves, seniors often do not keep up with the growing trends.

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This, in combination with cognitive decline due to age, can become a recipe for disaster when a predator contacts an elderly individual electronically. Often, these predators will front as IT professionals aiming to help you fix your computer, tablet, or phone. However, if you did not contact them first, do not give out any personal information.

With just a few pieces of information, these online predators can access your bank accounts and drain them before your eyes.

While online predators are growing at a high rate, they are not the only kind of predators looking to exploit elderly individuals financially. Unfortunately, family members too often become the mastermind behind elder financial abuse.  Because of this, it is extremely important to keep your private information locked away and only given to a few trusted individuals.

What to do if you Suspect Elder Abuse?

If you suspect you or a loved one are a victim of elder abuse, it is crucial to take immediate action. First, it is important to ensure everyone in the situation is safe and out of harm’s way. If the victim is in immediate danger, you should call 911 or your local emergency services as soon as possible.

In many areas, you will also be required to report the abuse to your local Adult Protective Services (APS). Doing this will open a thorough investigation into the case to prevent further abuse.  It is important to document the situation and provide as much information as you can when you speak to APS.

Remember, if you suspect elder abuse, it is your duty to report the crime. Every situation is unique, but if you have a feeling there may be abuse happening, reporting senior abuse is always the right answer.

What Happens When You Report Someone for Elder Abuse

When you report someone for elder abuse, the outcome of your report can vary based on the specifics of the situation. However, in most cases, reporting elder abuse will trigger a comprehensive investigation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the victim.

Typically, the following steps will be followed once a report has been made:

  • Initial assessment of the situation
  • Involvement of social services
  • Investigation
  • Law enforcement involvement
  • Protective measures put in place

All elder abuse situations are different, so some cases may not be as thorough as others. However, the main goal is to always provide a safe environment for the senior.

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How to Report Elderly Abuse

If you believe you or your loved one is the victim of elder abuse, it is essential to report the abuse to the proper authorities. Each state has its own elder abuse hotline which can be found in the chart below. Once you have contacted the hotline, they will provide you with the next steps.

When calling the hotline, it is important to be as truthful as possible with the representative. This way, they will be most equipped to help you in your situation.

State Elder Abuse Reporting Hotline
Alabama 800-458-7214
Alaska 800-478-9996
Arizona 877-767-2385
Arkansas 800-482-8049
California 833-401-0832
Colorado 303-86605700
Connecticut 860-808-5555
Delaware 888-277-4302
Florida 800-962-2873
Georgia 866-552-4464
Hawaii 808-832-5115
Idaho 208-334-3833
Illinois 866-800-1409
Indiana 800-992-6978
Iowa 800-362-2178
Kansas 800-922-5330
Kentucky 877-228-7384
Louisiana 833-577-6532
Maine 800-624-8404
Maryland 800-332-6347
Massachusetts 800-922-2275
Michigan 855-444-3911
Minnesota 844-880-1574
Mississippi 844-437-6282
Missouri 800-392-0210
Montana 844-277-9300
Nebraska 800-652-1999
Nevada 888-729-0571.
New Hampshire 800-949-0470
New Jersey 609-292-1272
New Mexico 866-654-3219
New York 844-697-3505
North Carolina 919-855-3400
North Dakota 855-462-5465
Ohio 855-644-6277
Oklahoma 800-522-3511
Oregon 855-503-7233
Pennsylvania 800-490-8505
Rhode Island 401-462-0555
South Carolina 888-227-3487
South Dakota 833-663-9673
Tennessee 888-277-8366
Texas 800-252-5400
Utah 800-371-7897
Vermont 800-564-1612
Virginia 888-832-3858
Washington 877-734-6277
West Virginia 800-352-6513
Wisconsin 833-586-0107
Wyoming 307-777-3602

How to Prevent Elder Abuse

The key to preventing elder abuse is understanding how it happens and knowing the warning signs. It is important to listen to older adults and their caregivers to provide support in tough situations. Listening to what the older adult is telling you may help indicate trouble when it comes to elder abuse.

You should also report elder abuse or suspected elder abuse the moment you believe something may be going wrong. Each state has its own reporting line shown in the chart above. Use this hotline any time you wish to report a suspected elderly abuse case.

It is also important to check in with your elderly friends and family members who may be far from home or have few individuals that check on them regularly. These are the individuals most susceptible to elder abuse. Thus, you should take extra precautions for the safety of these individuals.

As the population ages, elder abuse is only projected to increase, which makes it even more difficult to pinpoint and bring to an end. As older adults become more vulnerable to this type of abuse, it is important that we take as many steps as possible to end elder abuse.

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