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The safety net turns into a spider’s web, and the vulnerable prey is silently stuck and attacked. This is how elder abuse takes place. It may occur anywhere. At the home of the elderly person, the home of a family member, an assisted living facility, or a nursing home.
Senior citizens are vulnerable to abuse, and no place could be considered safe for them. Family members, caretakers, nursing home staff anyone may be the culprit in the abuse. Elder abuse has become a pricey and undetected epidemic in the United States. However, only a small slice of the problem comes to the limelight.
So, what is elder abuse?
Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act that causes harm to an older adult. Reports by the U.S. Department of Justice suggest that nearly 1 in 10 of these people suffers from elder abuse every year. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), elderly women are more likely to suffer from abuse than their male counterparts.
The word ‘abuse’ may take you to a supposition of physical mistreatment. However, elder abuse is not just physical. It has in-depth facets like emotional harassment, neglect, financial exploitation, and much more.
Types of Elder Abuse
- Physical Abuse
Physical abuse may include hitting, beating, pushing, shaking, pinching, kicking, slapping, etc. As elderly people are physically very weak, even a small physical force may harm them, resulting in a fracture or bruising. Forceful feeding of food and medicine is also considered physical abuse.
- Psychological/Emotional Abuse
Emotional and/or psychological abuse refers to the psychological harassment of the individual. Verbal assaults, intimidation, humiliation, threats, insults, etc., are considered emotional abuse by the law.
- Sexual Abuse
Sexual contact with an elder citizen without his/her consent is termed sexual abuse. Sexual contact with elderly people suffering from severe physical ailments like stroke is abuse. Furthermore, some individuals may suffer from memory issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Sexual contact with such elderly persons incapable of giving consent also is sexual abuse.
Neglect generally occurs when the caretaker fails to fulfill his duty of care which causes harm to the elder people. Failure to provide food, water, medication, clothing, and other basic comforts is considered neglect.
- Financial Abuse
Financial abuse refers to the financial exploitation of a senior citizen. Common examples of financial elder abuse include cashing checks without authorization from the individual, stealing money and possessions, forging a signature, and misuse of power of attorney.
Signs of Elderly Abuse
The indications of abuse would vary depending upon each individual and the type of abuse they undergo. Let’s see what the signs of elder abuse are, categorizing it according to the types of elder abuse.
- Emotional distress
- Unusual behavior
- Social withdrawal
- Unusual fear
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping disorders
Physical Abuse and Sexual Abuse:
- Repeated falls
- Fractures, sprains, and head injuries
- Cuts, bruises, and abrasions
- Broken eyeglasses or frames
- Bite, strangulation, and burn marks
- Genital bleeding and infections
- Lacerations around the breasts or genital area
- Dehydration or malnutrition
- Untreated bedsores
- Poor personal hygiene
- Unsanitary living conditions
- Sudden and bulk bank transactions
- Abrupt changes to a will
- Unpaid bills
- Unexplained loss of possessions
After Effects of Elder Abuse on the Victims
Apart from physical injuries, the consequences of any type of elder abuse are often exhibited as behavioral problems and depression. Serious physical or sexual abuse may cause severe health problems in the victim and may also have fatal outcomes. Victims of abuse tend to withdraw themselves from society and may have a decline in their general health condition.
How the Law Protects the Victim
Elder abuse claims are protected by both state and federal laws. The abuse incidents are handled in the civil or criminal code of law. It depends on the state where the abuse occurred and the background of the case. Civil liability from elder abuse is handled at the state level, whereas stricter penalties are given for certain crimes involving senior citizens. Either the victim or his loved ones could file an elder abuse claim. A legal representative can also file a lawsuit for an elderly victim, seeking the support of an elder abuse attorney.
As per California law, elder abuse is categorized under misdemeanor, felony, or criminal negligence. In legal terms, any citizen who is 65 years of age or older is considered an elder. Any dependent of the victim who is between the ages of 18 and 64 can proceed with the lawsuit representing the victim.
In Georgia, elder abuse is legally a crime. An offender involved in elder abuse can be imprisoned for 1 – 20 years and/or fined $50,000. Mandatory reporters include physicians, medical professionals, social workers, financial institution employees, and law enforcement officers who are responsible for reporting any alleged elder abuse.
As per New York law, an individual who is aged 60 years or older is considered an elder. For a successful elder abuse claim, reporting the abuse to the police, Adult Protective Services (APS), or other government agencies is mandatory. Serious physical injuries or sexual abuse cases are considered criminal offense.
Elder abuse victims should be mindful that the time to bring a claim is limited. The window of time available to bring up the claim is called the statute of limitation, which would differ in each state in the US. For instance, in California, the statute of limitation for elder abuse is two years from the date of abuse or injury. Once the period is over, a victim cannot pursue a lawsuit or obtain compensation for his damages.
The victim may obtain compensation for the pain and suffering, medical bills, future care needs, and out-of-pocket expenses. The compensation amount may however depend upon the extent of damage suffered by the victim. Most elder abuse cases settle without proceeding to a trial. If the settlement negotiation does not turn out acceptable to any of the parties, the claim may proceed toward trial.
The following are the common punishments given by the law for abusing an elderly citizen:
- Restraining order to protect the victim
- Loss of professional licenses
- Loss of employment
Physical or sexual abuse of an elder citizen may be charged as assault or sexual assault, whereas non-violent elder abuse can be punished with fines, probation, and cancellation of license.
Elder Justice Act (EJA)
Elder Justice Act was passed in 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). One of its goals is to integrate federal and state approaches towards complaints and elder abuse prevention. The EJA creates and coordinates also provides additional support for entities like the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Elder Justice Coordinating Council, and Advisory Board on Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation which monitors and reports elder abuse.
Adult Protective Services in Elder Abuse
Adult Protective Services (APS) is social services program administered by local or state health, aging, or regulatory departments. It is comprised of a versatile crew of professionals like physicians, nurses, paramedics, and law enforcement officers. These workers investigate and report elder abuse and other related issues faced by senior citizens.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have their own elder abuse laws and APS programs for the victims. Where there are allegations of violence, neglect, or exploitation of elderly people, state and local APS agencies are among the first to respond and prepare elder abuse reports.
National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS) is the first comprehensive, national reporting system for adult protective services (APS)
Every human deserves safety and dignity. When the law is there to protect you, why continue to struggle and suffer? Know your rights and fight back for them.
Truth is that many elders fail to report the ill treatment they have at the hands of their caretakers or family members. The foremost concern is that most elder abuse isn’t recognized and is underreported unless the victim is taken to an emergency room.
If you are a concerned friend, neighbor, or family member of a victim, report the issue immediately to Adult Protective Services. A practiced personal injury attorney dedicated to elder abuse cases could be consulted for advice.
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