Abuse, neglect and exploitation of elder people are addressed by elder abuse laws, both at the federal and state levels. These laws exist to protect elder people from abuse and to provide a framework for reporting, investigating and punishing elder abuse. Seniors with dementia are believed to be at higher risk of abuse and neglect than seniors in general, largely due to impairments in memory, communication abilities and judgment. In Maine, the relevant legislation is known as the Adult Protective Services Act.
Elder Abuse Laws in Maine
At the federal level, the Older Americans Act, the Elder Justice Act of 2009, the Violence Against Women Act and the Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2009 all relate to elder abuse. However, the authorization and regulation of the provision of services in cases of elder abuse occurs at state level.
Elderly people in Maine are protected by elder abuse laws because they may be unable to protect themselves from abuse, neglect or exploitation due to incapacitation, dependency and/or an inability to manage their finances. Title 22, Chapter 958-A of the Maine Revised Statutes is the Adult Protective Services Act, which provides the framework for elder abuse laws in Maine. Generally, the law recognizes someone over the age of 60 as an elder person. This differs from some other states, in which 65 is the cutoff age. However, eligibility for Adult Protective Services in Maine is based on disability, vulnerability or impairment, and not solely on the age of the adult.
Read More: How to File Charges for Elder Abuse
What Is Elder Abuse?
The first official definitions of elder abuse were provided by the 1987 amendments to the federal Older Americans Act. Since then, each state has formed its own definition of elder abuse. Elder abuse may also be called elder mistreatment, senior abuse, abuse in later life or abuse of older adults. Under Maine law, infliction of any the following on an elderly person may constitute elder abuse:
- The infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or cruel punishment that causes or is likely to cause physical harm or pain or mental anguish.
- Sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.
- Financial exploitation.
- The intentional, knowing or reckless deprivation of essential needs.
Both acts and omissions to act can constitute abuse. Neglect and exploitation are also forms of abuse. Neglect is defined as a threat to an adult's health or welfare by physical or mental injury or impairment, deprivation of essential needs or lack of protection from these. Neglect may be self-neglect, where the adult has failed to provide for himself adequate shelter, clothes, food, personal care, medical attention or necessary medication, or necessities such as glasses, hearing aides or dentures.
Exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an incapacitated or dependent adult or that adult's resources for another's profit or advantage. Many elderly people have savings accounts, own their homes and/or receive a regular income through social security. Unfortunately, this makes them a prime target for financial exploitation.
Dependent or Incapacitated Adult
Under Maine law, a dependent adult is an adult who has a physical or mental condition that substantially weakens her ability to adequately provide for her own daily needs. A dependent adult includes:
- Someone who lives in a nursing home or in an assisted living facility.
- Someone who was considered a dependent person as the victim of the crime called "endangering welfare of dependent person" under the Maine Criminal Code.
- Someone who is wholly or partially dependent upon one or more other people for care or support, either emotional or physical, because she suffers from a significant limitation in mobility, vision, hearing or emotional or mental functioning.
Under Maine law, an incapacitated adult is someone who is mentally or physically impaired, mentally deficient, physically ill or disabled, and as a result does not have adequate understanding or ability to make or communicate responsible decisions to care for himself or manage his finances.
Mandatory Elder Abuse Reporting
In Maine, certain adults are legally obligated to report elder abuse, whether they know abuse has taken place or have a reasonable suspicion that abuse has taken place. Mandated reporters include various classes of people who work regularly or occasionally with seniors, such as those who are responsible for the care or custody of a dependent or incapacitated adult, administrative personnel in a religious establishment and those who help transport the elderly. For example, ambulance attendants, occupational therapists, licensed practical nurses, social workers and psychologists acting in a professional capacity are under a duty to report suspicions of elder abuse.
However, even if you do not fall under a legal category of mandated reporter, Maine lets any person make a report of elder abuse in good faith, provided she has reasonable cause to suspect a substantial risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation. This is known as optional reporting. If you make a report of elder abuse or take part in a related adult protection investigation, you are immune from any civil liability that might otherwise arise from your actions.
Warning Signs of Elder Abuse
Sometimes the signs of abuse are obvious, but sometimes they are more subtle. Possible signs of abuse include:
- Physical signs of abuse, such as bruises, abrasions, pressure marks, burns and broken bones.
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area.
- Unusual or hasty changes in alertness or mood.
- Unusual or hasty changes in financial circumstances.
- Bedsores, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss and other signs of unattended medical needs.
- Belittling, threats, name-calling, harassment and other controlling behavior by spouses, children or those expected to be in a position of trust.
- Tension and frequent arguments between the elderly person and caregivers.
Reporting Elder Abuse in Maine
If you suspect elder abuse in Maine, contact the local Adult Protective Services in your area. This is the social services program that investigates reports of abuse or neglect of dependent people living in the community. It is part of the Bureau of Elder and Adult Services of the Department of Human Services. Alternatively, you can contact the nationwide APS 24 hours a day, toll-free at 800-624-8404 or use the online reporting form. The more information you are able to provide about the elder, dependent or incapacitated person and the suspected instances of abuse, the quicker APS will be able to investigate. If possible, provide the adult’s name, address and age, any known physical or mental impairments affecting the adult, as much detail as possible about the nature and extent of the danger to the adult and the name of the family member or caregiver, if known.
All states have elder care ombudsman program laws designed to protect the rights, safety and other interests of residents in long-term care facilities. Typically, programs are managed by a state or local office on aging. In Maine, the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 22, Section 5107-A provides long-term care ombudsman program laws. In Maine, all residents in long-term care facilities have the right to be free from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
If you have concerns about the welfare of a resident in a long-term care facility in Maine, contact the Ombudsman Program directly at 800-499-0229 to discuss possible resolutions. If you are uncomfortable raising concerns directly with facility staff, such as the director of nursing or the residential care director, the ombudsman program can assist. You can also call Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Licensing and Certification complaint line at 800-383-2441 to report the issues. The division is responsible for investigating all complaints in nursing homes, hospitals, assisted housing (residential care and assisted living) and licensed home care agencies.
Adult Protective Services
When APS receives a report of suspected elder abuse, the matter is investigated by caseworkers in order to develop a case plan and determine the necessary action. After assessing the victim's risk and ability to understand that risk and provide informed consent to further investigation, APS may provide or arrange for the provision of various services, such as medical services, social services, legal services, housing such as emergency shelter and any other protective services deemed appropriate. APS will provide services to keep the adult safe, while still giving him as much personal freedom as possible. In some circumstances, APS will seek guardianship and/or conservatorship of adults who are unable to make decisions for themselves and who have no family members or friends able and willing to make decisions on their behalf. The Department of Human Services or the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services may be appointed as public guardian or conservator.
As well as frail or vulnerable elders, APS clients may include people with mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse problems and medical problems or disabilities. If a competent senior refuses an APS investigation and is deemed to have the capacity to understand his circumstances and the level of risk, APS may refer him to other resources, but ultimately will close the case.
Other Maine Elder Abuse Laws
Maine has general criminal statutes on assault, battery, sexual assault, theft, fraud and other offenses that can be applied in cases of elder abuse. Civil remedies are also available for domestic violence, such as a Protection from Abuse Order, which is a civil order for adults over the age of 60 who are dependent or incapacitated, and being abused by an extended family member or unpaid caregiver.
A dependent or incapacitated adult can file for a Protection from Abuse Order against an extended family member or an unpaid care provider if that person:
- Caused an injury.
- Unreasonably confined the dependent or incapacitated adult, such as by tying him to a bed or locking him in a room.
- Used intimidation or cruel punishment that caused, or is likely to cause, the dependent or incapacitated adult physical harm, pain or mental anguish.
- Financially exploited the dependent or incapacitated adult, such as by deception, intimidation, undue influence, force or other unlawful means, to get control over his property with the aim of benefitting the abuser or another person.
- Sexually abused or sexually exploited the dependent or incapacitated adult.
- Deprived the dependent or incapacitated adult of his essential needs, for example by withholding food or medication.
- Intentionally provided the wrong medication or too much medication.
Forms for a Protection from Abuse Order are available from the district court in the county in which the abused person lives. The forms must be completed in full and filed at the court clerk's office. No fee is payable. If protection is required immediately, check the box on the form asking for a temporary order. A Protection from Abuse Order will be issued right away if the judge who reads the complaint agrees that there is immediate and present danger of abuse.
The primary elder abuse law in Maine is the Adult Protective Services Act, which is designed to protect the elderly from abuse, neglect or exploitation and provides a framework for the authorization and regulation of the provision of services in elder abuse cases.
- Maine State Legislature: Elder Abuse Reporting
- Maine Legislature: Maine Revised Statutes Title 22 Section 5107-A
- The Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program: Long-Term Care Information
- Maine State Legislature: Maine Revised Statutes Title 19-A Chapter 101
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Elder Abuse: Definitions
- Maine.gov: Adult Protective Services & Guardianship – How to Report
- Pine Tree Legal Assistance: Protection from Abuse in Maine: First Steps & Frequently Asked Questions
- Maine Legislature: Maine Revised Statutes Title 22 Ch. 958-A: Adult Protective Services Act
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.