Elder Abuse Laws

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Elder abuse laws have been enacted out of necessity. Millions of our country's senior citizens are being abused in their own home, in the home of a family member or friend, or in a residence such as a nursing home. Many of them have been subjected to one of the five forms of elder abuse.

The Facts

A law firm specializing in nursing home abuse, Brayton Purcell LLP, states that senior citizens are subject to five main forms of elder abuse. These elders have either been physically abused, sexually abused, emotionally abused, taken advantage of financially or experienced neglect. HelpGuide.org, a group founded by Robert and Jeanne Segal to help people deal with abuse, among other things, guides us in understanding more about this abuse. This group, also made up of health experts, writers and web professionals, has discovered that "more than half a million reports of abuse against elderly Americans reach authorities every year, and millions more cases go unreported." HelpGuide.org has discovered some of the reasons or motivations of the abusers. In some cases, the senior is so frail that he is not able to "stand up to bullying or to fight back if attacked." Some seniors are conned or taken advantage of because they are no longer able to see, hear or think clearly. Because some seniors have extreme "mental or physical ailments," some abuse happens by paid caregivers, loved ones, friends, or companions out of frustration or rage.


One form of abuse experienced by senior citizens is physical abuse. As reported by Brayton Purcell LLP, physical abuse includes elders being hit, beaten, pushed, shaken, slapped, burned and kicked. Help Guide.org explains that "inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, and confinement" also fit this category. Another form of abuse experienced by senior citizens is sexual abuse. Brayton Purcall LLP categorizes sexual abuse as molestation, rape, sex acts and sexual touching. HelpGuide.org explains that sexual abuse also includes "showing an elderly person pornographic material, forcing the person to watch sex acts, or forcing the elder to undress." Still another form of abuse experienced by senior citizens is emotional abuse. HelpGuide.org states that emotional abuse takes two forms: verbal and nonverbal. Verbal abuse includes "intimidation through yelling or threats," humiliation, ridicule, and "habitual blaming or scapegoating." Nonverbal abuse takes the form of ignoring, isolating or terrorizing. Many senior citizens experience financial abuse. Brayton Purcall LLP provides this definition: "The improper use of an elder's funds, property or assets constitutes financial exploitation or abuse." Their attorneys have discovered that the perpetrators of this abuse include family members, friends, someone who holds power of attorney over that elder, and financial institutions. Finally, many more seniors experience some form of neglect. Brayton Purcell LLP explains that when seniors are being deprived of sufficient amounts of "food, water, clothing, shelter, medicine, and personal safety," this is considered neglect. In the case of seniors who are bed-ridden or use wheelchairs, neglect includes not showering or bathing them often enough or allowing them to remain in a wet or soiled diaper. Another form of neglect is refusing to take them to the bathroom when asked so that the senior either experiences physical discomfort or she ends up wetting or soiling herself. HelpGuide.org warns that you need to also watch for signs that their dietary requirements are not being satisfied or a doctor is not called when the seniors have physical ailments or illnesses. You should also watch for bedsores, signs of dehydration or being malnourished.


There are warning signs to watch for when elder abuse is taking place. In the case of physical abuse, HelpGuide.org suggests we watch for sprains, dislocations, broken eye glasses or frames. Additionally, be extra watchful and alert if you ever experience the "caregiver's refusal to allow you to see the elder alone." Brayton Purcell LLP states we should also look for unexplained bruising, black eyes, rope marks, fractures, broken bones, cuts, burns, open wounds and lacerations. In the case of an emergency, they say "consider calling the local sheriff, police or Adult Protective Services." In the case of sexual abuse, Brayton Purcell LLP says you should watch for "torn or bloody clothing," "unexplained venereal disease or genital infections," or "genital or anal pain, itching, bruising, or bleeding." Additionally, the elder abuse site from Help Guide.org cautions that you should watch for not just bruises around the genitals but also breasts. Be aware that some seniors will be too embarrassed to report this, they may have received threats, or if they suffer from some form of dementia, they might not even recall that the sexual abuse took place. Report any serious signs of sexual abuse to the sheriff, police or Adult Protective Services. Signs of emotional abuse are more challenging to spot and isolate if the senior does not choose to tell you she is being verbally abused or mistreated. In that case, Brayton Purcell LLP suggests that you watch for the elder displaying agitation, fear, "unusual behavior such as sucking, biting, and rocking," or the senior withdraws or acts apathetic. Additionally, make spot visits to your loved one at unexpected times. This way, you might be able to witness the abuse taking place. In the case of financial abuse, the elder abuse site from HelpGuide.org says you should watch for significant withdrawals from the elder's bank accounts, sudden changes to their financial situation, items or cash is missing from their house, there are "suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies," unpaid bills, lack of medical care, and ATM withdrawals when the senior might be unable to leave the house. You should also watch for additional names on their accounts or on the senior's signature cards. Additionally, watch for duplicate billing, evidence of "inadequate care when bills are paid in full," and in the case of a care facility, "poorly trained, poorly paid, or insufficient staff, crowding, and inadequate responses to questions about care." When an elder is being neglected, you might question whether the neglect was intentional. The lawyers from Brayton Purcall LLP state that "the important point is not whether the neglect was intentional, but whether your loved one's health or safety has been compromised."


The laws governing elder abuse vary from state to state. The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault site indicates that two main laws were implemented to address this issue. In 1965, the "passage of the federal Older Americans Act (OAA) was passed. This law was "intended to protect elderly victims." In 1992, the "Vulnerable Elder Rights Protection Program" was "instrumental in promoting state laws to address the needs and concerns of the elderly." Many states have criminalized abuse of the elderly. Even though many states have implemented "mandatory reporting" just as they did with the problem of child abuse; sadly, elder abuse is still "widely under-reported." New York City indicates that in order to mandate these laws, it will take the "combined efforts of both criminal justice officials and social services staff."


If you are a senior citizen who is being "abused, neglected, or exploited," the elder abuse site at Help Guide.org states you should "tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust." You can also call Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116. Help Guide.org says that "the person who answers the phone will refer you to a local agency that can help."



About the Author

Debbie Dunn is a professional storyteller, conflict resolution specialist, and author of two books. She has her MA in education at East Tennessee State University and her BA at Principia College. She taught for 14 years. You can find her articles on Examiner.com, eHow, and Associated Content.com.