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Handling Abuse to Elders

Handling Abuse to Elders

Picture of Yvonne LaRose

How do you recognize abuse, especially as it relates to elders or those with an impairment? When do you call the acts you're witnessing "abuse"? It's so easy to write off the behavior or make the excuse that one shouldn't make a lot of waves, it was just a mistake.

However, once identified, where should the abuse be reported in order to gain access to protection and rectification? Perhaps we should look at the standard model of abuse as it relates to women to try to grasp the many phases of abuse that there can be and how it affects the target (the one against whom the acts are being perpetrated).

There is the California Elder Abuse Reporting Act. It's described by a lawyer's office and it goes into financial abuse, especially as it affects the responsibilities of banks, financial institutions, and their employees. Very useful. They also recommend contacting AARP, which in turn refers to Adult Protective Services (APS).

San Jose has very illuminating language on the subject. It's very easy to understand; they tell how to report it and where (with contact information).

Sacramento, in 2007, adopted the Financial Abuse Reporting Act. I would venture to say the person in question does not necessarily need to be 65 or older in order to qualify for protection when all the other facts are within the purview of the question and the person is deemed an elder or under control or care of another in some way (incompetents, minors who require dependent care, 60 (or younger) and disabled, and so on).

The most useful information I found as I explored this topic is from It goes through the many types of abuse, describes some of the signs, warns against ignoring protests of "it's no big deal," and provides resources for reporting abuse that are other than AARP.

Still, there are other pressing issues that impact this subject. The elder may not be 65 (as alluded to earlier). In the alternative, the person may have all of their faculties but not capable, or one reason or many, to do things for their own self. Perhaps the harm is not being exacted by a caregiver but instead by a family member or a health care facility worker where the person is residing. One typical question is "Why do they stay?" There are a lot of explanations for why the abused stays in the situation. Trust me, it isn't because they're having a good time.

Many times the abused has asked for help in getting out or finding a way to make positive changes but their words fall on deaf ears. A health care facility seldom wants to believe one of their employees is acting in a chronic and abusive way, especially in light of the fact that their personnel have been trained about abuse. Denial is one of the ruling factors in allowing harm to continue to the blow-up moment. Once there's been a blow-up, it's easy to view things superficially and have someone in authority say the target is crazy. The next step is to have them certified, in California, as a 5150.

Why does the target stay? We'll visit that thought another day. There are a large number of underlying factors that feed the answers. Meanwhile, I challenge you to think about the 5150 certification contrasted to "battered woman syndrome" otherwise known as post traumatic stress disorder.


Picture of Vincent Lim

Thanks for this informative post about elder abuse and the resources available to people. There are a number of studies -- some of which have been conducted by researchers at USC -- that have sought to investigate the reasons why cases of abuse go unreported. There has also been research into how abuse is defined and the various contexts where it occurs.

There is ongoing discussion about the need for greater oversight and regulation of long-term care facilities and in-home support programs in California and much of this talk is driven by concerns about abuse.

Picture of Yvonne LaRose

Thanks for your input on this very critical topic and making us aware of the studies. Are they public?

There are a lot of reasons why abuse goes unreported, most of which will not be revealed through survey questions, even when anonymity is guaranteed.

Picture of Vincent Lim

Unfortunately, many research studies are published in academic journals that require registration and/or payment to access their content. The best place to probably start looking for elder abuse research is the National Center on Elder Abuse's publications page.

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