There are more than half a million reports of elder abuse in the United States every year according to state Adult Protective Service data. Some studies show that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are reported to authorities. Impacts can be grave because elders who experience abuse are reported to have a 300% higher risk of death compared to those who do not experience abuse.
Often, elderly adults are abused in their own homes and by their own relatives. Elder care abuse is a growing area of focus today and it is important to educate those who are either receiving, or thinking about seeking, senior care to be able to recognize the signs.
Abuse: The Warning Signs
There are several diverse ways elder abuse can occur. Some of the signs that this abuse is occurring include:
- Withdrawal from activities, lack of alertness or unusual behavior
- Physical injuries such as blisters, burns or pressure marks that do not have an explanation to fit the pattern
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases or bruising around the breast or genital areas
- Poor hygiene, weight loss or the need for medical care
- A change in wills, trusts or financial accounts
If you have concerns about any of these types of abuse, ask questions and keep on top of the situation. There are laws in each state that do deal with the issues of exploitation, neglect and abuse. From state to state, the laws vary by who is protected-from those that live alone or with family to those who are living in long term care facilities. Many states have clear cut laws on criminal penalties for elder abuse. Laws outside of the realm of elder abuse may also apply, including rape, assault, fraud or domestic violence.
If you see elder abuse happening, call local police or adult protective services at once. When you need to find information, call the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator.
The risk factors of elder abuse have a wide range; therefore, it is possible that anyone can be affected by this. There are some elders, however, who may be more likely to suffer abuse. These elders include those that have a lack of support networks, who suffer from a mental impairment and who have caretakers that have personal problems such as finances or alcohol abuse.
Abuse may not be occurring from the outside, but elders who are no longer able to take care of themselves might be prime targets for abusers. Self-neglect includes elders who have a lack of basic needs, refuse medications, are hoarding, have poor hygiene and prefer isolation.
What Happens When You Report Abuse
You will first be asked to give your story and any information you have on the elder suspected of being abused. Most states take anonymous reports, but some may ask for your information for follow up questions.
Once an investigation begins, it will be Adult protective services (APS) investigating the first reports. If they find abuse, APS will work with several agencies including an elder abuse lawyer to ensure the safety of the victim. Law enforcement will get involved when the situation involves a criminal act. If the elder is not mentally capable of making their own decisions, a court may appoint a conservator or guardian.
Chad Foster is a trusted family law and divorce lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.