With the U.S. Department of Justice estimating that about one in ten seniors is abused each year, chances are that you, or someone you know, has been affected by elder abuse. Elder abuse isn’t limited to physical abuse, but can also include:
- Sexual abuse
- Psychological or emotional abuse
- Financial abuse or exploitation
What makes the problem of elder abuse even more challenging is that only about one in twenty-three cases are actually reported to authorities. The underreporting can be due to several factors, including an elderly person's unwillingness or inability to report the perpetrator who is often a family member or friend. Reporting elder abuse is especially challenging when the perpetrator is a trusted individual like an adult child or an attorney. In those cases, the person in the best place to report the abuse, other than the victim, may be the perpetrator.
However, there are signs of elder abuse that can be observed by others, including medical professionals who would have regular interactions with seniors. Knowing what to look for can help you identify and report cases of elder abuse. Read on to learn more about what to do if you observe signs of elder abuse.
How Do I Report Elder Abuse?
If you suspect elder abuse, it’s important to report it immediately, given the serious harm to the victim's health or assets that could result. Even if you’re unsure about whether such abuse is actually taking place, reporting your suspicions is an important first step. The resulting investigation can determine whether a senior is in fact being abused or, at the very least, it can provide the senior with helpful information to ensure that he or she is protected from abuse in the future.
Every state has its own form of social services agencies to address the abuse of children. These services are typically administered at the county level. Every state also has its own Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies, which receive and investigate reports of elder abuse. They also conduct investigations and work closely with local law enforcement in the event that criminal activity is uncovered. However, unlike typical investigations, APS investigations involve agents that are trained to specifically deal with elderly victims and can provide additional support services to these types of victims.
For a list of APS agencies near you, contact your local social services agency or see the APS locator provided by the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA).
What Does A Report Look Like?
A report of elder abuse need not be a formal, written report. Instead, all that is typically required is a telephone call to your local APS or social services agency. Important information to include in a 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 (including dates of events and a timeline, if possible)
- Any concerns of immediate harm
- Any assets of the victim that may be subject to exploitation
- The location of the victim and the best way to contact him or her
- 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)
It would also be a good idea to ask the agency for an estimated timeline for their investigation and for a description of the services that they’ll provide.
Depending on the laws of your state, professionals who would be in frequent contact with seniors, such as medical personnel, police, employees in care facilities, social workers, or even clergy, may be required by law to report suspicions of elder abuse. Under federal law, the Elder Justice Act requires reporting by anyone working in or with long-term care facilities that receive $10,000 or more in federal funds. Individuals who are required to report suspicions of elder abuse will typically face penalties for failing to do so.
Mandatory reporting has been having a positive impact as states that have expanded reporting requirements have generally seen increases in the cases of elder abuse investigated by law enforcement. One county in Colorado, for example, saw a doubling of reported cases of elder abuse within only five months after new statewide reporting requirements took effect.
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 that specializes 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. An attorney can also provide unique assistance in protecting a senior’s assets by revoking or amending powers of attorney or by recording documents affecting title to the property.
To find an elder law attorney near you, see FindLaw's lawyer directory.