Elder abuse laws are those laws aimed a preventing the abuse of elders, either by professional caregivers or private citizens. Such laws also provide penalties for those who engage in abuse of the elderly. Every state has elder abuse laws in addition to those issued by federal authorities.

Some states may have different standards and penalties for elder abuse depending on the caregiver. Standards tend to be stricter for elder care facilities and professional workers as opposed to those applied to informal caregivers (such as a friend or relative).  This is to prevent the occurrence of institutional abuses, such as when an elderly care home has deficient health care policies. 

Who Is Considered to Be an “Elder”?

According to federal laws such as the Older American Act (OAA), an “elder” is defined as any person who is at least 60 years old. State definitions of elder persons may vary, but most states define an elderly person as being over 65 years of age.

Also, disabled persons who are over the age of majority (18 years old in most states) can sometimes be classified as elders under both state and federal laws. 

Are There Different Types of Elder Abuse?

Most state laws define elder abuse as any act that results of physical abuse, harm, neglect, or deprivation of care towards an elder person. Elder abuse can also include emotional and mental harm to an elder, and not just physical injury. Some laws define non-consensual contact sexual contact as abuse as well. 

In addition, elder abuse can be classified into two broad categories- passive and active abuse:

  • Passive Elder Abuse: This occurs where a caregiver’s negligence, illness, disability, stress, lack of maturity, or lack of financial resources results in elder abuse.
  • Active Elder Abuse: This can occur when a caregiver intentionally fails to provide care to an elder person to whom they are responsible, for instance, if there is hostile tension between the elder and the caregiver. Active elder abuse usually results in criminal charges.

Finally, there are also instances called “self-neglect”, wherein the elder person is unable or unwilling to care for their own person. In such instances, intervention may be necessary to prevent further harm, even if such intervention occurs against the elder’s wishes.

Is Elder Abuse a Civil or a Criminal Offense?

Elder abuse can be classified as either a civil offense or a criminal offense. As mentioned above, active elder abuse usually results in criminal charges. Penalties for criminal acts of elder abuse may include fines and/or some time in jail.

Some states allow an elder person or their representative to file a civil lawsuit against a person or institute who abused them. This can require the offender to pay damages in order to compensate the elder victim for losses. Damages may include other monetary costs such as pain and suffering awards, and attorney’s fees. 

Finally, some states have elder laws that specifically require certain caregivers to report any instances of elder abuse. For example, most long-term elderly care facilities are required to report elder abuse to the proper authorities. 

Persons who have a duty to report elder abuse can actually face criminal charges if they fail to report elder abuse that they have witnessed or have knowledge of.  

Do I Need a Lawyer for Violations of Elder Abuse Laws?

If you or a loved one has been subject to elder abuse, you may wish to contact a elder lawyer immediately for legal advice and representation. Your lawyer may be able to help you obtain damages for losses associated with the abuse. Also, if you wish to make a report of elder abuse, you may also wish to contact an attorney. Procedures for reporting elder abuse can often be complex, but an attorney can provide guidance throughout the process.