Elder abuse is a serious issue that can affect your older adult loved ones. It's important to be aware of what elder abuse is and the signs to look out for so that you can offer support or take action if needed.
Elder abuse can take many different forms. It can be physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, or financial. Also termed "older adult abuse," it includes intentional harm, neglect, undue influence, self-neglect, and abandonment of an elderly person or vulnerable adult.
The good news is that awareness about older adult abuse is growing, and there are valuable resources available for both victims of elder abuse and their families. There are also several laws that protect the rights of older adults.
Continue reading to discover how you can protect the well-being of your older loved ones by understanding elder abuse, recognizing its types, and identifying warning signs.
State and Federal Elder Abuse Laws
Most states have laws addressing elder abuse. Understanding these laws is essential as a friend or family member. They can serve as valuable tools to protect your older adult loved ones in case they ever experience elder abuse.
The exact definition of elder abuse for each form of abuse varies from state to state. States also have public services and government agencies, like Adult Protective Services (APS), that offer protective services for older adults.
Each state has its own organizations and agencies, but they must cooperate with federal laws and agencies, such as:
States typically also use training and research from abuse organizations like the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
Common Types of Elder Abuse
Many elder abuse cases happen in places like long-term care facilities or nursing homes. Sometimes even family members or others close to someone end up being the abusers. Many abuse complaints also pop up when older folks don't feel respected by nursing home staff or other caregivers.
Common forms of elder abuse include:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Financial abuse
- Withholding mental health care
- Withholding accommodations for disabilities
- Neglect of basic needs and well-being
- Elder mistreatment
- Domestic violence
Abuse also includes financial exploitation, like tricking or pressuring an older person into signing a contract or misusing the older adult's money.
Neglect is another form of abuse when a caregiver fails to provide for the older adult's needs. Then there's elder abandonment, which occurs when a caregiver permanently leaves an older person at a public place like a park or mall.
Why Does Older Adult Abuse Occur?
Elder abuse can occur for several reasons. Nursing home staff or medical care providers may be overworked or undertrained. A family member might be overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for an older person and show frustration by berating or otherwise abusing them.
Abuse includes neglect and abandonment, and it's not uncommon for a family member to conclude they don't have the time or money to care for the older adult.
How Common Are Elder Abuse Cases?
Statistics are hard to come by because many incidents go unreported. Some studies estimate that only one in 24 elder abuse cases is reported. States also have varied and sometimes imprecise definitions of abuse.
For example, neglect and abandonment are often used interchangeably, even though they describe different forms of abuse.
There are more reports of older adult abuse every year, but it's unclear whether that means the problem is worsening, older adults are becoming more aware of their rights, or both.
Warning Signs of Abuse
Being aware of warning signs is crucial in protecting our older loved ones. Whether it's physical pain like bruises or subtler changes in mood and habits, these signs can indicate potential abuse
If a loved one suddenly shows a downward change in mood or outlook, that may be a sign of emotional abuse. If they experience sudden weight loss or regular hygiene isn't maintained, they may be experiencing neglect. If they start to experience unexplained financial losses or discrepancies in their accounts, they may be a victim of financial abuse.
Communication is key. Talk openly with your older loved ones about any concerns you may have and address any warning signs right away.
Laws Against Abuse
There are both federal and state laws against elder abuse. For example, federal law requires staff at certain nursing homes to report abuse within specified time frames.
Many states have also passed laws to discourage financial exploitation, such as requiring large print and clear explanations in contracts involving an older adult.
Some states require nursing homes to provide elderly residents with supervised recreation to guard against neglect.
Familiarizing yourself with these laws is important, especially if someone you care about lives in an assisted living facility. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have rules they must follow, and the staff has to respect the rights of the people living there. Knowing these laws helps you make sure you and your loved one are treated fairly and with respect.
How an Attorney Can Help Reduce the Risk of Harm
If you or your loved one is experiencing elder abuse, contact an attorney today. An elder law attorney can explain federal and state elder abuse laws and help you understand the rights and protections in place for older adults.
An attorney can also help report elder abuse and take legal action against the abuser.
Additional FindLaw Articles on Older Adult Abuse
Check out FindLaw's articles below on elder abuse to better understand and address this important issue affecting older adults. Learn more about signs of abuse, how to report it, and resources like the Elder Abuse Suspicion Index© (EASI) and the National Adult Protective Services Association.