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Focus on the Law: Elder Abuse

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “elder abuse is any abuse and neglect of persons aged 60 and older by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust.” In 2008, one in 10 elders in the U.S. reported emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment or potential neglect in the past year. Unfortunately, the true extent of this problem is difficult to determine because so many cases go unreported. In Tennessee, it is believed that only 1 in 23 cases of elder abuse is ever reported. The victims are often isolated and the abuse is rarely witnessed. More than two-thirds of elder abuse perpetrators are family members. The risk of family members becoming abusers is increased if the family members use drugs or alcohol; if they are depressed; if they lack social support; if they have a lack of training in taking care of elders; and if they have a high emotional or financial dependence on the elder. These family situations should be watched carefully for signs of elder abuse.

Elder Abuse takes several forms. Financial abuse or exploitation is the unauthorized or improper use of the resources of an elder for monetary or personal benefit, profit or gain. The financial abuser may steal or misuse money or possessions, forge checks or legal documents, and coerce or deceive the elder to surrender money or property. Signs to look for include bills being unpaid; essential purchases like food and medicine are not made; and inability to account for funds.

Physical abuse occurs when an elder is injured, assaulted, threatened with a weapon or inappropriately restrained. Sexual abuse is any sexual contact against an elder’s will. This includes acts in which the elder is unable to understand the act or is unable to communicate. The abused elder is unable to consent to the sexual contact in these situations.  Intentional touching of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, mouth, inner thigh or buttocks can be considered sexual contact. There may be visible bruising, frequent unexplained injuries, passive withdrawn behavior and lack of reaction to pain.

Psychological or emotional abuse occurs when an elder experiences trauma after exposure to threatening acts or coercive tactics. This can include social isolation; controlling behavior; humiliation or embarrassment; damaging or destroying property; and trivializing or disregarding needs. Abuse victims can become fearful and anxious. They may develop problems with trust and be wary around others.

Neglect is the failure or refusal of a caregiver to provide for an elder’s basic physical, emotional or social needs, or failure to protect them from harm. Abandonment is the willful desertion of an elderly person by a caregiver or other responsible person.

If you suspect elder abuse has occurred or is occurring, contact Adult Protective Services or your local law enforcement agency. Elder abuse is a crime and should not be tolerated. Our elders deserve our respect and protection.

 

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