There are several federal laws that aim to protect elderly citizens from neglect, abuse, and exploitation. For example, The federal Vulnerable Elder Rights Protection Program was enacted in 1992 and enhances the rights of senior citizens.

However, state law also plays a major role in protecting elderly people in the U.S. As in every other domain, state laws can be quite different in different states in how they define elder abuse and neglect and the protections they provide. They also differ in how they define who is an elderly person.

Generally, states define the elderly, or senior citizens, as adults who are 60 years old or older or 65 years old or older. In many states, state laws regarding abuse and neglect apply as well to adults of any age who are disabled.

What Are Some Types of Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse can take many forms, such as the following:

  • Physical abuse: Physical abuse consists of hitting, pushing, and sexual abuse;
  • Mental abuse: Mental abuse consists of creating mental anguish in another person or threatening or intimidating them;
  • Financial scams: such as using the resources of an elderly person without their consent and for an individual’s own benefit and not that of the elderly person;
  • Neglect: This can involve failing to take care of the basic needs of a person for adequate nutrition and medical care.

It is important to recognize that throughout the U.S., states have laws that impose a legal obligation on certain people to report instances of abuse inflicted on an elderly person. This means that reporting elder abuse is not optional. In fact, a person can be subject to a criminal charge if they know or suspect abuse and fail to report it.

Each state has its own list of those who are legally required to report abuse. Typically, mandated reporters are people who live or work with the elderly population, such as the following:

  • Doctors and nurses;
  • Mental healthcare providers, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers;
  • Nursing home/residential community administrators;
  • Close family members;
  • Other nursing home residents.

Federal law, specifically the Elder Justice Act, which is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sets reporting requirements for people associated with long-term care facilities. It applies to the following:

  • Owners;
  • Operators;
  • Employees;
  • Healthcare staff;
  • Managers;
  • Agents;
  • Contractors.

This law also specified the punishment for failure to report the abuse of elderly adults. It also protects those who report abuse from retaliation. Conviction of failing to report elder abuse is punished by payment of a fine of as much as $200,000 or $300,000 if the failure to report results in either of the following:

  • Increased harm to the victim;
  • Great bodily injury or harm to another victim.

If convicted, the owners of long-term care facilities and their owners can be ordered to pay up to $200,000 in fines if they retaliate against a person who reports abuse. They may also lose any federal assistance that they receive.

In Alabama, law enforcement officers, members of the clergy, and certain specified state employees are mandated reporters of elder abuse. Arizona mandates reporting of suspected abuse by accountants and attorneys. A few states require all citizens to report elderly abuse. But even people who are not mandatory reporters should alert law enforcement if they suspect that an elderly person they know has been subjected to abuse.

As for abuse and neglect, for example, New York has a so-called “Granny Law.” This law classifies the crime of assault on a person who is over 65 years of age as a 2nd-degree assault. This classification is only made if the perpetrator is at least 10 years younger than the victim. Second-degree assault in New York State is a felony. If a person is convicted, they can be sentenced to 2 to 7 years in prison.

Florida also has stringent laws that make abuse, aggravated abuse, and neglect of an elderly adult or an adult with a disability a criminal offense. Abuse of an elderly adult is a third-degree felony in Florida. A person who is convicted can be punished by up to 5 years in prison, 5 years probation and/or, payment of a fine of $5,000.

Neglect is also a crime, specifically a 2nd-degree felony in Florida. If convicted, a person can be punished by imprisonment for up to 15 years, 15 years of probation, and payment of a fine of up to $10,000.

In addition to abuse and neglect, the elderly are more often targeted by the perpetrators of financial scams perpetrated via telephone and email.

What Is the Older American Act?

The Federal Older American Act (OAA) First was enacted in 1965 and reauthorized in 2020. The goal of the OAA is to help elderly adults age in their homes as opposed to institutions. To that end, it authorizes a variety of programs and services for elderly adults. Among the services are meals that are delivered to homes, support for caregivers who are family members, health services targeted at prevention, transportation, and elder abuse prevention.

The Federal Administration for Community Living (ACL) administers most of the provisions of the OAA, except for the Senior Community Services Employment Program. This is administered by the federal Department of Labor (DOL).

The ACL funds services and support for elderly and disabled adults through networks of organizations based in communities. It also invests in research and education.

What Are Long-Term Housing Options for the Elderly?

The time comes for many families when they must select a home for their elderly loved one that provides some routine care and assistance. There are many types of long-term housing and care facilities available for the elderly.

  • Home: Many seniors would prefer to stay in their homes. It may be possible for seniors with illnesses or disabilities to stay at their homes with the services of a caretaker. Some insurance plans pay costs for elderly home care;
  • Nursing Homes: A nursing home is a certified residence that provides varying medical assistance, meals, rooms, and other assistance to elderly individuals who cannot live independently. Each nursing home offers a different level of medical coverage. Be sure to check with the doctor before selecting a nursing home;
  • Assisted Living: Assisted living is senior housing for elderly individuals who only need help with a few daily living tasks, such as keeping track of medication, cooking, and laundry. Seniors in assisted living situations live relatively independently.

What Medical Benefits and Subsidies Are Available to the Elderly?

The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administers programs that help provide medical insurance to seniors, individuals with disabilities, and low-income persons. Particularly, CMS administers health insurance through the following programs:

  • Medicare: Medicare is medical insurance for people 65 and older and people with certain disabilities. Medicare has two aspects: hospital insurance, which most people do not pay for, and medical insurance, for which many people make monthly premium payments;
  • Medicaid: Both individual states and the federal government administer Medicaid. Under the Medicaid program, qualifying elderly individuals receive most of their costs for nursing home housing. Medicaid is limited to those considered low-income with very limited resources;
  • Legal Assistance: A person may need to consult with a Medicare and Medicaid Lawyer to obtain the coverage and benefits to which they are entitled.

Do I Need an Attorney for My Elder Care Issue?

If you know someone who is a victim of elder abuse, you should speak with an elder care lawyer in your area immediately to learn more about what can be done to stop it. can connect you with a lawyer who practices elder law.

Your lawyer knows what the law is in your state and the resources available to provide help in your community. If you have other elder care issues, speaking with an elder law attorney may help you understand your options and get recommendations for possible solutions.