Our Elders are our roots and a testament to our character as they age and we are charged with their care. Yet it is estimated that 1 in 7 seniors are victims of abuse. Elder abuse takes many forms, physical, emotion and financial:
- a greedy child creates conflict and divides the senior from their family in order to abuse the senior financially;
- a neglectful caregiver overmedicates the elder and spends her day on the telephone talking with friends; or
- a predatory salesman who scares the elderly into buying his product or service, often at inflated prices.
Legally, elder abuse is defined as the neglect, exploitation or “painful or harmful” mistreatment of anyone aged 65 or older (or any disabled dependent adult aged 18 to 64). It can involve physical violence, psychological abuse, isolation, abandonment, abduction, false imprisonment or a caregiver’s neglect. It could also involve the unlawful taking of a senior’s money or property. In short, elder abuse constitutes many behaviors that are already crimes, such as theft, assault or identity theft, but when the victim is 65 years old or older (or a disabled dependent adult), the criminal faces additional penalties and punishment.
Statistics indicate that abused seniors experience shortened lifespans than other seniors their age. The problem is so prevalent that the California Legislature passed laws that direct special attention to the needs and problems of elderly persons, recognizing that the elderly constitute a significant and identifiable segment of the population and that they are more subject to risks of abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
While our laws offer added protections for our elderly population, most elder abuse goes unreported. Sadly, most elders and dependent adults who are at the greatest risk of abuse, neglect, or abandonment by their families or caretakers suffer physical impairments and other poor health that place them in a dependent and vulnerable position, often unable to report the abuse. It takes a courageous relative or neighbor to speak up, or a chance encounter with a “mandatory reporter” for someone in a position to help learns about the problem and takes action to stop it.
If You Suspect Abuse
Your first goal should be to end the unsafe condition. If the person is in immediate danger, call 911. Adult Protective Services (1-800-510-2020) can also help put a stop to physical abuse. Contacting APS may result in a referral to county counsel for the initiation of conservatorship proceedings.
If the elder is residing in a care facility of any kind, contact the ombudsman of the facility. To locate an ombudsman, call 1-800-231-4024. Your report will be confidential, and you can remain anonymous.
The California Attorney General’s Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Reporting Hotline can be reached at 1-888-436-3600. They will take reports of elder abuse of any kind.
If you suspect that a nominee or family member is taking advantage of your loved one financially, or is preventing access by other family members, please seek help. Under the federal Older Americans Act, every county has free legal services for seniors who are 60 years old or older. The programs differ, however, and their criteria for accepting cases vary as well.
Also, if you are at least 60, you may be able to get free legal advice by calling the Senior Legal Hotline at 1-800-222-1753 or by visiting the hotline’s Web site at www.seniorlegalhotline.org.
If neither the county’s legal services program nor the hotline can assist you, please contact our office to see if we can help. In these case, we typically represent family members who are concerned about the exploitation of an elder by another family member, and we can help you to put an end to the abuse and fight to recover assets that were misappropriated. Please contact our office at 650.525.0234 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss your situation.