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Stealing candy from a baby may be easy, but abusing older adults is more profitable. And, unfortunately, very popular.
Despite the universal ideal that we must respect anyone older than us, older adults are abused across cultures and classes in the United States. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates that one in every ten older adult Americans is mistreated by loved ones or strangers.
Elder abuse, now typically referred to as “older adult abuse,” takes many forms. It can be:
Medical (both from withholding health care or from health care professionals)
Domestic (happening at home)
Institutional (happening in a long-term care facility, nursing home or care unit)
Although state statutory definitions vary, the laws refer to the mistreatment or exploitation of older adults. This usually means a person aged 60 and above though some states or institutions vary.
Abuse of older people applies to a wide range of bad actions with varying degrees of severity. Abuse is everything from:
Financial abuse by medical care providers, family, or strangers
Abandonment or neglect of older parents by adult children
Misallocation of funds or property by a professional
Physical abuse like withholding medications or violence
Taking advantage of an older adult’s mental impairment or lack of judgment
Not reporting dangerous self-neglect when you see it
Social isolation as punishment or a way to control them
If you suspect it is happening, it is important to report it. Suspected abuse can prevent horrible situations and protect the person's well-being — whether they are part of your family or just someone you see.
You can report various forms of abuse to hotlines, police, or the hospital or institution where you see the abuse occurring.
Older adult abuse is widely underreported. This is often due to the personal relationship between the parties involved. Frail and feeble adults often need to rely on younger family members for care. This situation makes them unlikely to contact strangers to report any incidence of mistreatment, financial exploitation, or physical or psychological abuse. Sometimes they don’t fully understand the situation because they trust their family members. Other times they may want to keep “family business” private and within the family.
Very few people even know about services that protect older adults. Law enforcement can have trouble proving “hidden” abuse when they are called in to help. This, coupled with the federal government's traditionally fractured approach to adult protective services, can make it difficult to know where to turn when abuse is suspected.
The National Adult Protective Services Association notes there has been an epidemic of older adult abuse across the country since the 1980s. However, there hasn't been a unified approach to the problem despite its prevalence.
There is no one federal agency tasked with handling older adult mistreatment, so the states have had to improvise. Each state has its own framework for older adult protective services. About a third of these APS offices are also charged with protecting other vulnerable adult populations, not just older adults. The work falls either under a health department or a department of social services.
To find the appropriate agency to report older adult abuse to in your state, see the National Center on Older Adult Abuse's State Resources.
As the NCEA points out, it is important to report abuse even if you just suspect mistreatment. Call Adult Protective Services to speak to an expert who is informed. They can initiate an investigation or systematic review of the institution if necessary. The agency can also help locate resources for stressed caregivers as well.
Remember that older adult abuse can happen to any gender identity and culture. If you see an older person at risk who requires immediate assistance, just call 911 and ask the police for help. An older adult personal victimized by family members or caregivers may also need the assistance of an attorney.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.