Mar 16, 2016


Stephen Lacey
Florida Today
March 14, 2016

J. Scott Kelly
J. Scott Kelly
Elder mistreatment (i.e. abuse and neglect) is defined by the National Center for Elder Abuse as “intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder [perpetrated] by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder.

This includes failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.”

Unfortunately, we do not have complete statistics about elder abuse, in part because the nature of the relationship between the elder and the perpetrator can lead to failure to report incidences of abuse or neglect. In one of the only national studies aimed at assessing the scope of the problem, performed by the National Center on Elder Abuse in 1998, approximately 90% of abusers were family members such as adult children, spouses, and familial caregivers.

Additionally, although all 50 states have adult protective services and some type of regulation (see Florida Statutes § 825.102, for example), there is no consistency among the programs or among mandatory reporting laws. As a result, an overwhelming number of abuse and neglect cases go undetected and unresolved each year.

One reason many people fail to act even when their “gut” tells them something is wrong, is that they have no idea what to do and are concerned about confronting the perpetrator. However, there are “safe” steps you can take to help protect vulnerable elders:

Step 1 – Be alert to warning signs.

Elder abuse can take many forms, such as financial, physical, emotional or even sexual abuse. Mistreatment of an elder can also include neglect by a caretaker, abandonment, isolation, abduction or self-neglect – and many cases involve more than one type of abuse. Specific warning signs include:

• Physical Abuse: bruises, pressure marks, frequent unexplained injuries while in care, and burns.

• Neglect: unattended medical needs, weight loss, poor hygiene, and marked changes in manner of dress or appearance.

• General: unexplained withdrawal by the elder from normal activities or socialization, depression, strained relationships or tension between the elder and possible perpetrator, and sudden changes in financial situations.

Step 2 – Enlist expert help.

If you believe someone is in immediate danger, call 911. If the danger is not immediate, contact the local Adult Protective Services (APS) via telephone (or report online). Do not be deterred by fear of confrontation: information reported to the APS is confidential. A social worker will visit the elder and assess the situation. Even if the claim of abuse or neglect is unsubstantiated, the APS will help the elder obtain social, health, or related services that may be warranted or desired.

If you suspect abuse of a facility resident, you can also contact the local Long Term Care Ombudsman program. Alternatively, contact the elder’s trusted advisor (such as an attorney or accountant.)

Step 3: – Remember that the elder has the right to refuse assistance, and be diligent in reporting continued suspicions of abuse and neglect.

It can be difficult for individuals who are being violated to cooperate with those who mean to help, especially when their abuser is a trusted person or someone they are dependent upon. Additionally, claims may be unsubstantiated initially, until additional evidence is found or the elder becomes more willing or able to disclose.

Many anti-terrorism campaigns state “if you see something, say something.” We should apply this same approach to suspected elder abuse. Sometimes our instincts give us accurate information, and what seems wrong can be a clear signal that abuse is taking place. Together, we can protect our elders and ensure their safety and dignity.

Stephen J. Lacey, JD, LLM-Tax is a partner in the law firm Rossway Swan Tierney Barry Lacey & Oliver, P.L. Lacey concentrates his practice in estate planning, asset protection, Medicaid planning, VA Planning & probate.

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