An Overview of Elder Abuse and the Forms It Can Take

There was a time when child abuse was a silent, unspoken problem. While it is still greatly underreported, a commitment on behalf of law enforcement and advocacy groups has helped bring attention to the problem. We believe in and join this effort. We also hope to extend the same level of awareness to the victimization of another vulnerable population – our seniors. As a law firm for Panama City elder abuse victims, we are committed to alerting people to the problem of elder abuse, and help them recognize the signs that a senior is being victimized.

In this post, we hope to provide a general overview that will help community members understand the threat and be prepared to identify the problem. It is important to know that elder abuse can take a number of different forms. These types of abuse can occur in nursing homes, other care centers, or private homes. While they aren't all-inclusive, breaking elder abuse into several broad categories can be helpful:

  • Physical Abuse – This is often the first category people picture when they hear the word "abuse." It includes physical assault, unnecessary/unreasonable restraints, sexual abuse, and the misuse of medications (ex. sedating a person unnecessarily). Indicators of physical abuse include bruises, fractures, bloody/soiled garments or bedding, and drugged/sedated appearance. Victims may exhibit fear of certain people or in a more general sense. However, these signs can exist in the absence of abuse, and physical abuse can exist in the absence of these signs.
  • Neglect – As a general matter, neglect is the negligent failure of an individual's caretaker to provide a level of care that a reasonable person would consider necessary. Neglect can also include the failure to exercise appropriate self-care. Examples include: failure to provide food, clothing, or shelter; failure to provide or assist with personal hygiene; failure to meet physical or mental health needs; and failure to keep the individual safe (including from intentional or unintentional self-injury). Signs may include a generally disheveled appearance, weight loss, bedsores, skin ailments, and unaddressed health problems.
  • Financial Abuse – Financial abuse occurs when someone takes or retains a senior citizen's property with intent to defraud the elder or otherwise wrongfully use the property. In includes the failure to give a victim property or resources they are due, including government benefits. Signs include missing papers or legal documents or a lack of the resources that should be available for the elder. Additionally, the abuser may seem to be providing inappropriate assistance with banking and other financial tasks, or they may be denying necessary services due to the senior.
  • Abandonment – Abandonment is the willful desertion of a dependent individual by a caretaker in a situation where a reasonable person would have continued care, supervision, and guardianship of the individual. This can occur in the dependent person's own home or in another location.
  • Isolation – Isolation can become abuse when a victim is intentionally prevented from receiving mail, calls, visitors, or other contact. Isolation may also involve telling another person that the elderly individual is uninterested in or unavailable for contact when this is contrary to the victim's express wishes. Isolation can also include false imprisonment. Signs include a sudden withdrawal from contact, seeming unusually timid, or an apparent inability to speak freely.

A related discussion of elder abuse, including suggestions on what to do if you or someone else is a victim, can be found at the Bay County Council on Aging's website. Of course, no set of definitions can ever cover every possible instance of abuse. If you suspect something is wrong, speak up. Do not doubt your instincts, and do not assume someone else will report the problem. Like child abuse and domestic violence, mistreatment of seniors is often hidden. Victims may be unwilling to report the problem because they fear retribution. Other victims may be or unable to report abuse due to physical and/or mental infirmities. Preventing and stopping abuse requires all of us, an entire community of watchful eyes. More information on elder abuse is available via the National Center on Elder Abuse. The Florida Department of Elder Affairs' "Report Elder Abuse" website also provides information as well as a general reporting form.

Attorney Pittman serves Panama City and surrounding areas as a Northwest Florida elder abuse lawyer. Our team works with victims seeking financial damages in civil court. We are also available to help concerned family members, elder abuse victims themselves, and other members of our Panhandle community identify and report elder abuse.

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