Elder abuse” is typically defined by state law as any physical abuse, deprivation, or neglect of care that causes an elder person pain, mental suffering, or physical harm. For example, failing to provide an elder person with food or medication at the proper time can constitute elder abuse. Most cases of elder abuse are committed by elder care workers.

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. 

What Are the 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. 

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. 

Is it a Requirement to Report Elder Abuse?

Most state laws require anyone who witnesses elder abuse to report the incident to an appropriate agency. In particular, health care and human service professionals, law enforcement personnel, and long-term care facility employees are required to make such reports.

Other persons who may be required to report elder abuse include financial contributors (such as bankers) and religious clergy members. 

As a broad rule of thumb, any person who is in some way responsible for the care of elder persons should make a report if they “reasonably believe” that an elderly person has been subjected to abuse. The name of the person making the report is usually kept confidential.

Would My Elder Abuse Report Be Confidential?

Anyone can make a report about an elder abuse being taken place and have it be kept confidential. There are often hotlines and support lines that many can call in without giving personal information if they want to report elder abuse.

What Are the Legal Penalties for Failing to Report Elder Abuse?

Failing to report elder abuse is actually considered to be a misdemeanor crime in most states. Such charges may result in a monetary fine, and/or a short jail sentence.

In a few jurisdictions, a person who has the duty to report elder abuse, but fails to do so, may be sued by the victim or the victim’s relatives. The offender may then become liable for the victim’s losses, and may have to pay costs such as hospital bills and attorney’s fees.  

Do I Need a Lawyer to Report Elder Abuse?

If you wish to report an instance of elder abuse, you may wish to contact an attorney for advice. The reporting process can sometimes be complex, and state laws may vary on the subject. However, an experienced elder lawyer can help you file the report. In particular, if you have a duty to report elder abuse, it is important that you contact an attorney, so as to avoid possible criminal charges.