Reporting Older Adult Abuse

Knowing what to look for can help you identify and report older adult abuse cases. Read on to learn more about what to do if you observe signs of elder abuse.

Elder abuse isn't limited to physical abuse. Types of abuse can also include:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse or emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse or financial exploitation, including scams or identity theft
  • Neglect
  • Self-neglect

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that about one in 10 adults over 65 are abused each year. This can include vulnerable adult abuse, such as the abuse of adults with disabilities.

Knowing what to look for can help you identify and report older adult abuse cases. Read on to learn more about what to do if you observe signs of elder abuse.

Underreporting Older Adult Abuse Cases

Older adult abuse is even more challenging because only about one in 23 cases are reported to authorities. This trend of underreporting by victims of abuse can be due to several factors:

  • An older adult's unwillingness or inability to report the perpetrator (who is often a family member or friend)
  • Challenges with pointing fingers when the perpetrator is a trusted individual like an adult child or an attorney
  • Mental impairment or a lack of understanding of the abuse

Cases are difficult when the best person to report the abuse is the perpetrator. Caregivers and healthcare providers are often "mandated reporters" who must report abuse. When they are the abuser, their victims may not get the help they need.

However, there are signs of elder abuse that others can observe. Medical professionals who regularly interact with elderly people often see the first warning signs.

How Do I Report Older Adult Abuse?

If you suspect elder abuse, it's important to report it immediately. Abuse reporting helps prevent serious harm to the victim's health or assets.

Even if you're unsure whether such abuse is occurring, reporting your suspicions is an important first step.

The resulting investigation can:

  • Determine whether an older adult is being abused
  • Provide the adult with helpful information about abuse
  • Bring awareness to loved ones and assisted living facility staff (which may protect the older adult from abuse in the future)

Every state also has its own Adult Protective Services (APS) agency, which receives and investigates reports of elder abuse. They also conduct investigations and work closely with local law enforcement agencies if criminal activity is uncovered.

Unlike typical investigations, APS investigations involve agents trained to deal with older victims. They can provide additional support services to victims of abuse.

For a list of Adult Protective Services agencies near you, contact your local social services agency or see the APS locator provided by the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA).

Outside of Adult Protective Services, several human service agencies can help. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), provides a list of elder abuse hotlines by state. In addition, your local long-term care ombudsman is a great advocate for long-term care facility residents.

What Does a Reporting Form Look Like?

A report of elder abuse doesn't need to be a formal, written report. All that is typically required is a telephone call to your local APS or social services agency.

Important information to include in a verbal or written report would be:

  • The names and relationships of the parties and the person reporting
  • The age and condition of the victim (physical health and mental state)
  • Your specific observations and concerns of mistreatment (including dates of events and a timeline, if possible)
  • Any concerns of immediate harm
  • Any knowledge of mental illness or undue influence
  • Any assets of the victim that may be subject to exploitation
  • The location of the victim and the best way to contact them
  • Other potential witnesses and their contact information
  • Any relevant documents you may have (such as copies of emails, letters, powers of attorney, wills, or trusts)

You can ask the agency for an estimated timeline for their investigation. It is also helpful to ask for a description of their services.

Mandated Reporters

Depending on your state's reporting laws, healthcare professionals and long-term care providers in frequent contact with older adults may be required by state law to report suspected abuse. This list typically includes medical personnel, police, nursing home employees, social workers, or clergy.

Under federal law, the Elder Justice Act (EJA) requires reporting by anyone working in or with a long-term care facility that receives $10,000 or more in federal funds. In addition, any business that cares for the elderly and accepts Medicare or Medicaid must follow federal regulations on elder care.

Individuals required to report elder abuse suspicions will typically face penalties for failing to do so.

Mandatory reporting has a positive impact on states with expanded reporting requirements. These states have generally seen increases in cases of elder abuse investigated by law enforcement.

Additional Resources and Legal Help

For additional information on elder abuse, see FindLaw's Elder Abuse Overview or the resources provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse.

If you suspect a case of elder abuse, you should also speak with an attorney specializing in elder law.

An attorney can help connect you with relevant reporting agencies and can advise you about any legal remedies that may be available. They can also provide unique assistance in protecting an older person's assets.

To find an elder law attorney near you, see FindLaw's lawyer directory.

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