Elder Abuse

Across America, seniors are suffering in silence. About one in 10 seniors has suffered some form of abuse at least once, and many of these go unreported. Most abuse comes at the hands of family members, but a substantial amount happens in nursing homes. With the Amount of Americans 65 and over projected to double by 2030, this problem will only get worse if not addressed properly.

There are a variety of types of abuse seniors can be subjected to. Physical, emotional and sexual abuses are self-explanatory. Seniors can also be the victims of exploitation. This can result in entire fortunes being destroyed. Someone taking money without the elder’s consent, scams, and even family members stealing money are manifestations of this. Neglect is also a form of abuse. Failure of caregivers to provide clean clothes, adequate food, and medical care are examples if this.

Several federal laws have been passed recently to address the problem of elder abuse. In 2012, the Older Americans Act of 1965 was updated and reauthorized. This law creates the National Center on Elder Abuse, assists states with the development of Home Care Consumer Bills, establishes a National Adult Protective Services Resource Center, and much more.

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Elder Justice Act was passed in 2009. This established the Elder Abuse Coordinating Council and an Advisory Board on Elder Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation. The law also created stationary and mobile elder abuse forensic centers, as well as programs to recruit, train and retain long-term care staff. The law also provides grants to support state and local programs.

The Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2009 instructs law enforcement and the judicial branch on methods to handle cases of elder abuse. It authorizes grants to train state and local law enforcement on how to handle elder justice. Additionally, it authorizes the Attorney General to award victim advocacy grants.

Still, 30% of elderly Americans say they would rather die than go into a nursing home. With one in five deaths occurring in a nursing home, many of them will end up there. This is a dismal prospect considering that more than 30% of nursing homes experience some form of abuse. Only 9.4% of nursing homes were citation-free in 2012 (10.3% were in “substantial compliance”).  There are 1.5 million people living in 15,664 nursing homes in the U.S., with an occupancy rate of 86%.

Some of the warning signs for elder abuse are:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, unusual depression
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area
  • Sudden changes in financial situations
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss
  • Belittling, threats and other forms of emotional abuse
  • Arguments between elderly and caregivers

If you recognize any of these symptoms, local law enforcement, state Adult Protective Services, and Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs can all provide help. With only an estimated 20% of abuse cases going reported, often it falls on the family or caregivers to report suspicious activity. Immediate action is important, because evidence will deteriorate over time, hindering law enforcement efforts.

Additional Resources

National Center on Elder Abuse: http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/ncearoot/Main_Site/index.aspx

CBS News, Tracking Abuse in Nursing Homes: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/01/31/health/main327525.shtml

National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, Financial Abuse: http://www.preventelderabuse.org/elderabuse/fin_abuse.html

USA Today, Elder Abuse: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/27/elder-abuse-shelters/1869065/

GAO, Nursing Homes: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02448t.pdf

American Health Care Association, Trends and Statistics: http://www.ahcancal.org/research_data/trends_statistics/Pages/default.aspx

American Bar Association, Information about Laws Related to Elder Abuse: http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/main_site/pdf/publication/informationaboutlawsrelatedtoelderabuse.pdf

Center for Elders and the Courts, Elder Abuse Laws: http://www.eldersandcourts.org/Elder-Abuse/Elder-Abuse-Basics/Elder-Abuse-Laws.aspx

The Older Americans Act of 1965 (updated 2012): http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112s3562is/pdf/BILLS-112s3562is.pdf

The Elder Security Act of 2009: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111s795is/pdf/BILLS-111s795is.pdf

Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2009: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111s1821is/pdf/BILLS-111s1821is.pdf


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