What is elder abuse?
In very general terms, elder abuse is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate actions which cause harm, risk of harm, or distress to an individual 60 years or older and occurs:
- a) within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust;
- b) when the targeted act is directed towards an elder person by virtue of age and/or disability.
What are some common forms of elder abuse?
Elder abuse can be intentional or unintentional. Physical abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, economic or financial exploitation, active or passive neglect and abandonment are some forms of elder abuse. Abuse may be subtle and not appear overt; even inaction can sometimes be abusive. Abuse may occur only once, periodically or frequently, and can result in mild, moderate or severe pain and suffering. It is important for older adults to know their legal rights to prevent or stop abuse. It is estimated that over 2 million older adult Americans are abused each year. Unfortunately, most cases of elder abuse go unreported.
What is the “profile” of someone who abuses the elderly?
It really can be anyone, and it’s important for well intentioned friends and family to be actively involved in meeting and monitoring all of the people who are in a senior’s life.
According to studies of the cases reported, it is most often a family member, including adult children and spouses, who is the abuser. While any family member could be abusive or neglectful, adult children are the most common perpetrators. Abusers often live with the parent they are mistreating and frequently depend on that parent financially and emotionally. Other abusive family members may be spouses, adult grandchildren or other relatives, such as nieces, nephews, cousins, stepchildren or step-grandchildren or siblings. While there is no “typical” abuser profile, many abusers often have drug addictions, substance abuse problems, serious and untreated mental health issues and a past history of violence.
Abusers can also be trusted professionals such as attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors. It is estimated that over 3 BILLION dollars is taken per year from seniors nationwide by trusted business professionals.
What are some things to look for if I suspect Elder Abuse and neglect?
Every elder abuse situation has its own unique and distinct set of circumstances and elder abuse takes all types of forms. The most common are described below:
- Physical Abuse is any behavior or inaction that results, or is likely to result, in bodily harm or injuries such as bruises, cuts or broken bones. Other examples include hitting, pushing, beating or forcibly restraining, or intentional overmedication. An example of physical abuse would be a daughter forcing her elderly mother to do household chores when the senior is not physically able to do so and communicates this to her daughter.
- Psychological and Emotional Abuse is any verbal or non-verbal behavior that causes fear, distress, mental anguish or emotional pain. Other examples include name calling, insults and threats, treating him/her like a child or controlling behavior. An example of psychological/mental abuse would be a son who repeatedly tells his father that if he does not comply with a request that he will place him in a nursing home far away from family and friends.
- Sexual abuse is any behavior that hurts the victim sexually or includes unwanted sexual contact without consent. Examples include inappropriate touching, rough handling of genitals during routine care, fondling or kissing, rape, taking photographs in sexually explicit ways or exposing the victim to sexual content without the victim’s approval. I’ll allow you to create your own example of this one as it is usually the most horrific to deal with as a practitioner who deals with elderly clients on a regular basis.
- Financial Abuse or Exploitation is any behavior that causes the elderly victim harm through the illegal or improper use of the elderly victim’s funds, property or assets. This is the most common form of elder abuse that I see in my office. Examples include stealing funds, coercing the change of a Will, bank account or property transfer, using cash or credit cards without permission from or knowledge of the senior, and forging signatures on checks. Many people who are caught abusing the elderly in this way are quick to rationalize the theft as either some kind of “owed reimbursement” or “putting the money to good use as it is just sitting there.” Both are obviously very misguided thoughts. An example of financial abuse would be when a grandson uses a power of attorney she has gotten for her 80 year old grandfather to buy himself a new car with the grandfather’s funds without written approval from a lucid grandfather.
- Active neglect is when a caregiver intentionally refuses to provide basic care needs, resulting in bedsores, dehydration, poor hygiene or poor nutritional status. Other examples include withholding food, water, clothing, medication or help with personal hygiene. This unfortunately sometimes happens in both home care and nursing home situations, although most caregiver companies and nursing homes do very well to monitor for this type of neglect. An example of this would be when a home care worker who is annoyed at having to stay past her allotted shift time refuses to give the senior necessary food or medicine for spite.
- Passive neglect is when a caregiver does not provide basic necessities/care due to lack of experience, information, ability, or capacity. An example of passive neglect would be if a daughter is untrained in cleaning a wound and fails to dress it properly resulting in an infection.
- Abandonment is deserting a dependent older person with the intent to desert or leave them unattended at a place for a period of time which may be likely to endanger his or her health or welfare. A example of abandonment would be where a sole caregiver decides to go on a week vacation without providing for any accommodations in terms of food, medicine or financial support for the time away.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU SUSPECT ELDER ABUSE?
If an emergency, bring the senior to a hospital or call 911 immediately.
If it is an emergency and the victim is injured or in imminent danger, bring the senior to the nearest hospital or call 911 and get immediate help. If you do not see any imminent signs of danger but still suspect Elder Abuse, there are different organizations locally that can help and guide you to the right places.
New York City Department for the Aging, Elderly Crime Victims Resource Center.
The Center’s primarily bilingual caseworkers provide counseling services to abuse and neglect victims, and other help or information to victims. Calls are confidential and callers can talk anonymously.
Phone: (212) 442-3103 or 311
New York State Office of Children and Family Services
This office does have trained personnel who deal specifically with adult abuse.
To report adult abuse, call (within New York State only):1-844-697-3505 and they will also direct you to your local office who may be able to offer immediate assistance.
CALL AN ELDER LAW ATTORNEY
An elder law attorney can help with navigating the reporting process, obtaining a guardianship for the personal needs and property management of an older person, provide advice on the older person’s legal rights and available remedies, or even help place the attorney in the facility.
The senior can take action to stop the abuse by obtaining a Family Court Civil Order of Protection against his or her abuser. In New York State, a civil order of protection provides protection from someone who you are married to, divorced from, have a child in common with, are/were in an intimate (can be non-sexual) relationship with or are related to by blood or marriage. Again a trained elder law attorney can help discuss this option.
The most important thing to remember is that seniors have all of the rights that everyone else has in terms of living a life free of ANY kind of abuse. Many people who are being abused don’t come forward because either they don’t think they are in an abusive situation or they just don’t know that help may be available. It is not just the responsibility of close family to monitor for elder abuse situations. All neighbors, friends, family, physicians, business professionals, etc. have a responsibility to ensure the health and welfare of the elderly.