Reporting Elder Abuse

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 How to Report Elder Abuse?

It can be challenging to report any type of abuse. The majority of situations do not allow for easy reporting.

In some cases, the most difficult part is detecting the abuse early on. In addition, elder abuse may be difficult to detect because many older adults are too ashamed to report being mistreated.

If an individual is aware of an abusive situation, they should communicate with the individual privately and assure them they are there for support. They can tell the individual they can receive help and that there are numerous local, state, and national social service agencies that can assist with emotional, legal, and financial abuse.

In addition, local municipalities commonly have agencies where an individual can learn how to report abuse, where to seek help, and the state laws that govern abuse and neglect. The majority of states require doctors and lawyers to report elder mistreatment.

Family and friends of the elder can also report any abuse. If an individual believes another person is in urgent danger, they should dial 911 or contact their local law enforcement for immediate assistance.

If an individual determines an elder is neglected, abused, or exploited the individual should inform at least one other person, such as a friend, family member, or doctor. It can be difficult to detect because elderly individuals are not employed or part of social groups, so they may be isolated.

Another difficult situation to report is when abuse is perpetrated by a caregiver, especially when the caregiver is a child. An elder may also be afraid to report if they fear they will not have any other care.

Are There Any Tips for Reporting Elder Abuse?

Tips for a primary caregiver to safely report abuse include:

  • Plan for an alternative safe place for the elder before confronting the abuser. Be sure to obtain permission from the elder before approaching the abuser;
  • Try to convince the elder to report the abuse by seeking assistance from other family members to help the elder find alternative care; and
  • Being ashamed can prevent the elder from coming forward about the abuse. It is important to intervene early on.

Even if an elder refuses help, it is important to keep checking in on them.

Who Is Considered to Be an “Elder”?

Any individual who is at least 60 years of age is considered to be an elder under federal statutes such as the Older American Act (OAA). Although the definition of an elder may differ by state, the majority of states consider an individual over 65 to be elderly.

In addition, under both state and federal laws, disabled individuals who have reached the age of majority, 18 years of age in most states, may also be categorized as elders.

What Are the Signs of Elder Abuse?

There are warning signs of elder abuse that, if detected early on, can impact the care the individual receives in the future. Signs of elder abuse that may allow for early detection include:

  • Lack of medical devices, such as a hearing aid or glasses;
  • Unexplained bruises, burns, cuts, or scars;
  • Not having access to the necessities, such as clean water and food;
  • Sunken eyes or unexplained weight loss;
  • Untreated bedsores;
  • Lack of interest in maintaining social contacts;
  • Unexplained body infections; and
  • No adequate financial resources.

What Are the Different Types of Elder Abuse?

There are various different types of elder abuse that may occur, including:

  • Emotional abuse: This involves the mental state of the older adult and whether or not they are in a good state. Emotional abuse can be saying hurtful words, yelling, and threatening them. It also includes preventing the elder from seeing their family and close friends;
  • Neglect: This occurs when the abuser fails to meet the basic needs of the elder, for example, providing them with necessary:
    • medication;
    • food;
    • water; and
    • social support;
  • Financial abuse: Financial resources are withheld, which may include:
    • forging checks;
    • stealing retirement money; or
    • changing the name on the tile without their permission;
  • Physical abuse: This occurs when an individual causes bodily harm by slapping, hitting, or pushing. It may also involve restraining an older adult against their will, for example, locking them in a room or tying them to furniture;
  • Abandonment: This is deserting an elder who is entirely dependent on the caregiver for basic needs and care; and
  • Sexual abuse: This occurs when a caregiver or other individual forces an older adult to observe or to be part of sexual acts.

Is Elder Abuse a Civil or a Criminal Offense?

Elder abuse may be prosecuted criminally or filed as a civil case. Elder abuse criminal charges may result in jail time, criminal fines, or both.

In some jurisdictions, victims of elder abuse or their representatives may bring a legal case against the organization or individual who is responsible. The perpetrator may be required to pay monetary damages to the victim, including compensation for pain and suffering.

Is it a Requirement to Report Elder Abuse?

The majority of state laws require individuals who have witnessed elder abuse to report the incident to the appropriate agency. Individuals required to report elder abuse include:

  • Health care professionals;
  • Human services professionals;
  • Law enforcement personnel; and
  • Long-term care facility employees.

Other individuals who may be required to report elder abuse include financial contributors, for example, bankers, and religious clergy members.

Where Should I Go for Help with Elder Abuse?

Every state in the U.S. has services to report elder abuse. One is the Eldercare Locator, which is a nationwide service that is handled by the U.S. Administration on Aging.

If an individual is being abused or neglected, it is important for them to contact someone they trust and explain their concerns. There are numerous services available to assist elders, including phone hotlines and the Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line.

Area Agencies on Aging is another local resource that can be used to assist family caregivers in finding respite and in-home help with difficult care tasks such as bathing, dressing, and cooking. If an individual is a caregiver and feels they may be in danger of abusing an elderly individual who is in their care, they may need to take a break, communicate their frustration to someone, and reach out to a local agency to assist with the tasks.

Elder abuse should be communicated to the right individuals, such as counselors, friends, or family members. Because elder adults may be in vulnerable situations, it is important to seek help as early as possible.

Would My Elder Abuse Report Be Confidential?

Any individual can report elder abuse confidentially. There are often hotlines and support phone lines that individuals can call and report elder abuse without sharing any personal information.

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

In most states, the failure to report elder abuse or neglect is a misdemeanor crime that may result in a short jail sentence, a criminal fine, or both. In some states, if an individual has a duty to report neglect or abuse but failed to do so, that individual can be sued by the elder or the elder’s family for costs, including hospital bills and attorney’s fees.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Report Elder Abuse?

If you see any signs of elder abuse, you should report the issue immediately. If you need assistance reporting, an elder law attorney can help. Your attorney can provide the legal guidance and representation needed for these types of claims.

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