State and Federal Elder Abuse Laws
Most states have laws specifically addressing 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 reported elder abuse cases occurred in long-term care facilities or nursing homes. But too often, family members or loved ones are the abusers. Many abuse complaints are also based on an older person feeling disrespected 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, such as tricking or coercing an older person into signing a contract or misusing the older adult's money.
Neglect occurs when a caregiver fails to provide for the older adult's needs. Elder abandonment 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, whether older adults are becoming more aware of their rights, or both.
Warning Signs of Abuse
There are clear warning signs of suspected abuse. It can include physical pain, such as bruises, or more subtle changes to mood or habits.
If an older person 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, the older person's needs may be unmet.
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.
How an Attorney Can Help Reduce the Risk of Harm
An elder law specialist can help explain federal and state elder abuse laws. Older adults and their family members should always understand elder rights and protections.
An attorney can also help report elder abuse and take legal action against the abuser.