Elder abuse is defined as any abuse and neglect of persons age 60 and older by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust. Forms of elder abuse include:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Psychological or emotional abuse
Unfortunately, elder abuse is often committed by intimate partners, adult children and other relatives, caregivers, fiduciaries, or others who are in a position authority. Abuse can also occur in long-term care facilities.
Most states require mandatory reporting of suspected abuse and neglect, but state laws differ on who must report and who is exempted from reporting. Attorney general offices are tasked with working with law enforcement and investigators to develop elder abuse cases and prosecute bad actors. Prosecutors are responsible for ensuring victim safety and serving as a resource to the community.
The following factors can be used to help identify abuse and neglect in nursing homes:
- Failure to provide adequate nursing staff to care for residents.
- Failure to provide basic hygiene.
- Failure to provide adequate food resulting in emaciated and weak residents.
- Withholding medications.
- Using unlawful restraints and/or sedatives.
Elder Abuse Cases
Almost all states have laws criminalizing abuse or neglect of an elder. These laws are usually incorporated into assault, battery, domestic violence, or sexual assault statutes. If a victim is over a certain age, a sentencing enhancement or mandatory-minimum sentence may be imposed. However, elder abuse cases are unlike other criminal cases and can be difficult to prosecute.
Some aspects may impact a verdict at trial:
- Determining causation where aging, medical conditions, effects of medication, etc., may be present in the victim.
- Determining the state of mind of the accused.
- Overcoming social perceptions of older accused persons.
- The Administration for Community Living advocates for elders and has created several programs to prevent abuse and provide informative resources.
- The Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect has published a list of warning signs for the various forms of elder abuse and neglect.