What Is Elder Abuse?

by | Jan 9, 2017

Elder abuse is the broad term used to identify any mistreatment or maltreatment of an elderly person.  Generally, elder abuse is an act or failure to act that causes harm, serious risk of harm, or financial loss to an elder. It can include physical, sexual, mental, emotional, and financial abuse, as well as neglect by caregivers.  Some definitions also include self-neglect by the elder.  The definition of elder abuse for legal purposes differs from state to state and purpose to purpose within a state.

The term elder is most often defined as an individual 60 years of age or older.  However, like the definition of elder abuse, the definition of elder differs from state to state, as well.  In addition to the age requirement, most states also require the elder to suffer from the infirmities of aging such that they are no longer able to care for themselves.  Because of the need for an individual to be suffering from some infirmity or disability, many states, use the term vulnerable adult instead of elder.  When the term vulnerable adult is used, it means individuals 18 years of age or older who are unable to care for themselves because of a disability.  The disability can be emotional, mental, physical, developmental, intellectual, or sensory.  Disability under these circumstances also includes infirmities of aging.

All states have a protective services statute that allows a designated state agency to step in and take limited legal actions to protect an elder or vulnerable adult from being harmed.  However, not every state has a criminal abuse statute under which to prosecute those who harm elders or vulnerable adults.  Those states without specific elder abuse criminal statutes, rely on traditional criminal statutes, such as assault, to prosecute those that harm elders.  Some states, like Florida, have both protective service and criminal statutes governing the abuse, neglect, exploitation of elders.  However, its criminal statutes have different definitions than those under the protective service statutes.  In states like Florida, an individual may be guilty of criminally exploiting an elder, but the actions that harm the elder may not be enough to require the designated state agency to take any action to protect the elder from further harm.

To cut through the confusion of what elder abuse is, can be, or should be, The Sketchley Method uses the term MALTREATMENT to describe all acts that cause harm, risk of harm, threats of harm, or financial loss to vulnerable adults.

If you believe an elderly person or vulnerable adult in your life is a victim of maltreatment (abuse, neglect or financial exploitation), REPORT IT. If you are a victim, you are not alone and there are people who can help you if you report it.