Our population is aging steadily. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2030, for the first time in history, older persons (ages 65 and older) will outnumber children (those younger than 18). About 20 percent of the U.S. population is expected to consist of the elderly (those older than 65). The not-for-profit Justice in Aging estimates that each day 8,000 to 10,000 Americans turn 65.
Elder abuse is a societal problem, which unchecked may get worse as the senior citizen populace grows. Furthermore, those who commit elder abuse can face serious criminal charges with substantial prison time and financial penalties, plus high stakes civil lawsuits.
California defines "elderly" as age 65 or older. Elderly and dependent adults (ages 18 to 64) are often particularly vulnerable to financial or physical abuse because they:
· May not understand their situations
· Take various medications
· May suffer from mental or physical impairments or disabilities
· Are less able or likely to protect themselves, to understand or report criminal conduct, or to testify in court proceedings on their own behalf
Under California elder abuse laws, elder abuse can consist of:
· Financial abuse (theft or fraud)
· Physical harm
· Other acts that cause mental or physical hardship, pain, or suffering
Some Sobering Statistics
As the National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports, about 10 percent of seniors suffered some form of elder abuse. Experts estimate that victims only report 7 percent of cases. Because of low reporting to authorities, some believe as many as five-million older adults suffer from abuse every year. If abused, an elderly person's risk of death triples. Financial elderly abuse is estimated to cost seniors more than $40 billion annually.
Types of Elder Abuse
Elderly abuse can include physical harm, sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect, or exploitation. Offenders can include family members, children, wives, husbands, or employees at residential living facilities such as nursing homes.
Types of elderly abuse include:
· Emotional: Threats, intimidation, harassment, verbally lashing out
· Physical: Causing pain or injury
· Sexual: Non-consensual, unwanted, inappropriate touching, fondling, intercourse, or any other sexual activity, when the elderly person cannot consent, resist, or understand
· Imprisonment/confinement: Isolating or restraining a senior without valid medical reasons (such as for the safety of the elderly person or others)
· Isolation: Preventing an elderly person from contact with others, including mail, visitors, and telephone calls
· Neglect: Not providing food, water, clothing, shelter, or medical help
· Willful deprivation: Preventing an elderly adult from receiving medicines, medical care, shelter, food, therapy, or other assistance, and which creates a risk of physical or emotional injury (unless the person older adult is competent and clearly refuses that care)
· Financial: Exploitation, theft, fraud, or misuse of funds or withholding an older person's money
Signs of Elder Abuse
Clear warning signs of elderly abuse include:
· Bruises, burns, bed sores, broken bones, cuts
· Weight loss
· Poor hygiene/grooming
· Deteriorated relationships, tension, arguments, unusual depression or anxiousness
· Sudden isolation from usually enjoyed life activities
· Changes in financial circumstances
· Fearfulness, reflexively recoiling
· Unusual quietness, solitude, the inability or unwillingness to talk or speak up
The Law's Intent
The law penalizes those who unfairly take advantage of or abuse the elderly. Nearly everyone, when they think of their mothers or fathers, wants them to live in safe, clean environments with proper care. Unfortunately, this does not always occur, sometimes with tragic consequences.
The elderly frequently face a conundrum: They often depend upon the very caretakers who silently abuse them (and often are good at concealing their abuse). Many times the elderly person cannot reach out for help, either because the perpetrator actively prevents them, or because they are physically unable to seek outside assistance or let others know they need help. Even a senior who realizes he is suffering from abuse or neglect may feel alone with no one to turn to. The elderly person now becomes a victim, endangered. Fortunately, there is help available, and the advice and representation of an experienced attorney can help victims recover and stop the abuse as quickly as possible.
Suggestions to Prevent Elderly Abuse
Elder abuse seems to have reached epidemic status, but in some cases the elderly and their loved ones can prevent it. Some suggest that older persons make themselves safer and less prone to abuse if they:
· Keep abreast of their financial affairs (including reviewing bank records and credit card statements)
· Keep valuables safely tucked away, or entrust them with someone else
· Use caution when delegating financial matters to others (for example, giving someone a power-of-attorney, or the ability to write checks or access their bank information)
· Vigilantly safeguard their passwords and other login information
· Keep their own telephone
· Seek advice from an independent professional (for example, a lawyer or accountant) before signing any important document
· Trust their instincts, and contact someone else if something doesn't feel right (for example, calling a hotline for assistance or guidance)
· Possess the confidence to discuss concerns with doctors, clergy, family, friends, or someone else they can trust
If your family member or loved one requires ongoing care or resides in a nursing home or long-term care facility, you are often the first line of defense when it comes to preventing and stopping abuse. Familiarize yourself with the signs of abuse and take action if you see any.
Did You or a Family Member Suffer Elder Abuse? Call an Experienced Santa Clara, California, Elderly Lawyer for Help
If you or someone you know was hurt by elderly abuse, or you suspect it, don't delay. California law may entitle you to significant compensation for your damages, and we can help. The attorneys at Hackard Law focus on elder law, and we handle many cases involving older people, their heirs, beneficiaries, and personal representatives. We serve clients from throughout California. Call us at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles, or contact us confidentially.