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Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is the physical, emotional, sexual, or financial mistreatment of an elderly person, including neglect and abandonment. Most states have laws specifically addressing elder abuse, and most offer protective services for the elderly. Although many reported elder abuse cases occur in nursing homes, too often, family members are the abusers. The following resources cover the basics of elder abuse, explain the different types of abuse, and provide a list of warning signs along with contact information for reporting abuse.

Common Types

Physical and emotional abuse are common forms of elder abuse. Many complaints of abuse are based on an elderly person feeling disrespected by nursing home staff or other caregivers. Abuse also includes financial exploitation, such as the tricking or coercing of an elderly person into signing a contract, or misuse of the elderly person's money. Neglect occurs when a caregiver fails to adequately provide for the elder's needs, and abandonment includes instances such as a caregiver permanently leaving an elderly person at a public park or mall.

Why Does Abuse Occur?

Elder abuse can occur for a number of reasons. Nursing home staff may be overworked or undertrained. A family member might be overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for an elder and show frustration by berating or otherwise abusing the elder. As mentioned, abuse includes neglect and abandonment; perhaps a family member concludes that he or she just doesn't have the time or money to care for the elder.

How Common Is Abuse?

Statistics are hard to come by because many incidents go unreported. In fact, some studies estimate that only one in five cases of elder abuse is reported. States also have varied, and sometimes imprecise, definitions of abuse; for example, neglect and abandonment are often used interchangeably, even though they describe different forms of abuse. There are more reports of elder abuse every year, but it's unclear whether that means the problem is worsening, whether the elderly are becoming more aware of their rights, or both.

Warning Signs

Clear warning signs include physical ones such as bruises. If an elderly person suddenly shows a downward change in mood or outlook, that may be a sign of emotional abuse. If there is sudden weight loss or regular hygiene isn't maintained, it's possible the elderly person's needs aren't being met.

Laws Against Abuse

There are both federal and state laws against elder abuse. For example, federal law requires staff at certain nursing homes to report abuse within specified time frames. Many states have similar laws, and states have also passed laws to discourage financial exploitation, such as by requiring large print and clear explanations in a contract involving an elderly person. Some states require nursing homes to provide elderly residents with supervised recreation, to guard against neglect.

How an Attorney Can Help

An elder law specialist can help to explain federal and state elder abuse laws, so that an elderly person and his or her family members understand elder rights and protections. An attorney can also help to report elder abuse if it occurs, and to take action against the abuser.