When people learn that our team serves as a law firm for elder abuse victims in San Francisco and throughout Northern California, and when they learn how incredibly common the problem is, they often ask how they can help. These people often express concern about their ability to identify elder abuse. This is an understandable concern. Like other forms of abuse, mistreatment of seniors is often hidden. Victims may be unwilling to report the problem due to fear of retribution or unable to report abuse due to physical and/or mental infirmities.
We want to provide an overview of several forms of elder abuse in order to help our concerned community members identify the problem. In order to do so, we consulted a guide provided to a specific group on individuals who are required to report elder abuse by California law. The guide, titled Reporting Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse, is given staff members at a range of California elder care facilities. It breaks elder abuse into the following categories to help these mandated reporters understand the issue:
- Physical abuse – This includes physical assault, unreasonable restraints, misuse of medications, and sexual abuse. Indicators of abuse can include bruises, broken bones, fractures, bloody/soiled clothing, appearing excessively drugged, and exhibiting intense fear. These signs do not always mean abuse exists and physical abuse can also exist where these signs are absent.
- Neglect – Neglect includes the negligent failure of a caretaker to provide the level of care a reasonable person would deem necessary. It can also include the failure of the person themselves to exercise such a level of care. Examples include: Failure to provide food/clothing/shelter, Failure to help with personal hygiene, Failure to care for physical and mental health needs, and Failure to keep the person safe. Possible signs include unkempt appearance, bedsores, skin disorders, untreated health issues, and sudden weight loss or other signs of malnutrition.
- Abandonment – This form of abuse involves the desertion other willful forsaking of a dependent adult or elder by a caretaker when a reasonable person would have continued providing care and maintaining supervision/guardianship of the individual.
- Financial abuse – Financial elderly abuse occurs when someone takes or retains the property of a senior with the intent to defraud or wrongfully use the property. This includes failing to give the victim property or resources due to them. Signs include missing papers or legal documents, inappropriate assistance with banking tasks, lack of amenities or resources that should be available to the elder, and denial of necessary services.
- Isolation – Isolation constitutes abuse when it involves intentionally preventing a victim from receiving mail, calls, or visitors. It can also involve telling another person that the elder is unavailable or unwilling to make contact when this is contrary to the victim’s express wishes. False imprisonment and restraining the victim from contact are also included in the definition of isolation. Clues to this abuse include the inability to speak freely and acting unusually withdrawn or timid.
No set of definitions can ever cover every possible instance of abuse. If you suspect something is wrong, speak up. Do not question your instincts or assume someone else will report the problem. Preventing elder abuse requires the efforts of our entire community. More information on elder abuse can be found at the Administration on Aging’s National Center on Elder Abuse.
Attorney Brod serves Northern California, including working as San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento elder abuse attorney. Our team represents victims seeking financial reparations in civil court but we are also available to help concerned family members and others identify and report elder abuse in our region.
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California Enacts New Law Expanding Mandatory Reporting of Elder Abuse
(Photo by Jonas Boni)