What is Elder Abuse?

One commits elder abuse by subjecting a senior citizen to physical,emotional or sexual mistreatment; by neglecting or abandoning a senior; or by exploiting a senior for financial or material gain.

While federal law does not specifically address elder abuse (although federal legislation funds the National Center on Elder Abuse, or NCEA), all 50 states and the District of Columbia provide APS programs for victims. While senior citizens usually are defined as those 60 (or 65) and older, most laws addressing elder abuse also apply to adults of any age and are similar to child abuse laws.

Most experts agree that elder abuse usually happens in the victim’s own home, or the home/facility of his or her caregiver, and the perpetrator frequently is a family member. Victims often are too confused about abusive acts; are kept isolated; are unwilling to report a family member; or, if it is financial abuse, are unaware of it.

An estimated one out of every 10 senior citizens in the United States experiences some type of abuse, but fewer than 20 percent of those cases ever get reported, according to the NCEA. Elder financial abuse in particular was estimated to have cost older Americans $2.9 billion in 2009, a 12 percent increase from the 2008 estimate, according to a study by the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

Elder Abuse and Criminal Law

Individuals accused of committing elder abuse may be prosecuted under a given jurisdiction’s general criminal code (e.g., assault, battery, fraud,theft, rape), but some states have adopted statutes that provide explicit criminal penalties for elder abuse in its various forms. Also, some state legislatures have enacted stricter penalties for certain crimes where senior citizens are the victims.

Some states’ criminal justice systems began making changes to better respond to instances of elder abuse in the 21st century, as the population of aging Baby Boomers has increased.

At the federal level, so-called “fiduciary abuse specialist teams (FASTs)”made up of FBI agents, accountants, insurance claims detectives and other professionals are more aggressively pursuing cases of financial elder abuse.

Elder Abuse and Civil Liability

Civil liability resulting from elder abuse is handled at the state level,with some states allowing recovery of punitive damages, court costs and attorney’s fees in addition to compensatory damages. Nursing homes and other caretakers may be subject to lawsuits for failing to provide adequate care, over-prescribing drugs, financial fraud, inflicting physical harm and other forms of abuse or exploitation.

If you feel you or a loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, contact Kelly Law for a free, compassionate consultation. We have the experience and resources to help.