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What is Elder Abuse Law?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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Elderly people are often dependent and defenseless. As a result, they are often mistreated by those who are supposed to care for them. Elder abuse law is legislation designed to protect the elderly and to punish those who are guilty of mistreatment. In the United States, the problem and the laws are taken very seriously. All states have a body of elder abuse law.

When many people think of elder abuse and elder abuse laws, they think of issues relating to nursing homes. Although elder abuse laws do apply to the actions taken in these facilities, the laws also cover a wider range. In-home care professionals, medical facilities, and family members can also be regulated by these laws.

One of the issues that elder abuse law seeks to address is neglect. Those who assume the responsibility of caring for an elderly person are held to their commitments by law. A person or facility can be liable for neglect if it can be proven that an elderly person in its care suffered. In most cases, suffering is not limited to physical pain, though this is obviously included. Actions can also be deemed negligent if they result in mental and emotional suffering.

Elder abuse law also commonly addresses financial exploitation. It is generally against the law to take advantage of an elderly person financially. There are many ways that people do this. Some people trick or force elderly people to give them money. Others may have elderly people sign documents, such as a power of attorney, under false pretenses.

Many governments make efforts to make legal representation available to the elderly, despite their financial circumstances. There are often agencies and organizations devoted to protecting the rights and welfare of elderly people. There are also attorneys who specialize in elder abuse law. They may serve the elderly people who are mistreated or they may serve the families of elderly. Elder abuse cases and the damage awards that may result often are not finalized until after the mistreated individual is deceased.

Elder abuse law is not always concerned with addressing or preventing malicious behavior. In some cases, legislation deals with regulations deeming how the elderly are to be cared for and how the professionals and facilities that care for them are to conduct themselves. An example may be a law that requires caregivers to receive vaccinations for illnesses to which the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Mar 19, 2014

The article is correct, abuse does not have to be physical or psychological harassment. Negligence is also elder abuse. If an elder is not cared for properly, if he or she is not fed, cleaned and dressed properly and treated well, that is also abuse. The law applies to such cases as well.

By burcinc — On Mar 18, 2014

@ddljohn-- I'm not an expert and since this is such an important sensitive issues, I suggest that you speak to a lawyer at once about what can be done.

I think that it is necessary to prove that abuse is taking place. Since your father is being cared for at home, can you have a secret camera placed without the caretaker knowing? This way you can observe what is happening in your absence and if there is abuse, it will serve as proof as well.

By ddljohn — On Mar 18, 2014

We have hired someone to care for my father at home while we work. Everything seemed fine in the beginning but now I am starting to suspect that my father might be treated badly during our absence. He is not able to speak, so I can't prove anything. But he has become more withdrawn lately and the other day, I saw a bruise on his leg that wasn't there before. The care taker claims that he fell, but I'm not so sure. I can just fire her but if there is abuse taking place, I would prefer to take legal action or she will continue to other jobs and abuse others.

For now, we are making excuses and making sure that someone is at home all the time along with the caretaker to observe her and to make sure that everything is fine. I have no idea how to go about proving the abuse however.

Has anyone been in this type of situation before? What did you do?

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