Elder Abuse: A Crime Against the Disadvantaged

Abuse can come in many forms, and can affect a variety of individuals. Whether it be a child, nursing home resident, or incapacitated person – there is a common thread in most cases. Usually, the abused is a disadvantaged person in that they have some physical, emotional, or cognitive disability. In the case of children, the abused may not have any disability at all, but rather, their young age and naivety are taken advantage of. Children and the Elderly are similar in this regard; both groups are potential abuse-targets due to age and not necessarily disability.Health reform laws recognize the widespread issue of elder abuse. Read a popular article here, for information on this subject. According to “Health Reform: Changes in Store for the Elderly,”new laws contain

“[p]rovisions that will help protect nursing home residents and other long-term care recipients from abuses, and give families of nursing home residents more information about the facilities their loved ones are living in or considering moving to.”

Many cases involving abuse involve heart-wrenching facts that quickly gain media attention. The harsh penalties, public attention, and shame accompanying  charges of abuse should be motive enough to deter such behavior. Since abuse is such a reputation-damaging charge or allegation, the public must not immediately judge every case reported by the media.

Individuals who are living in long term care facilities are susceptible to mistreatment. Many older people develop dementia and/or other physical disabilities towards the end of life. This can stress-out workers at care facilities, which can lead to frustrations being taken out upon the defenseless patient or resident.

What to look for? If you suspect a loved one is being, or has been victimized – there are things you can look for to ensure you don’t miss telltale signs. Look for physical signs like bruises, burns, bed sores, and puncture holes. Also, don’t ignore uncomfortable subjects like the presence of a sexually transmitted diseases, lowered self-esteem, or unexpected mistrust. If you have a parent or loved one who lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility, keep a mental note (or hard copy if you are already suspicious) of possessions and valuables. Then, check each month to be sure those items are still where they are supposed to be.

In addition to physical and emotional signs of abuse, more obvious financial red flags should be examined carefully. For example, if you notice your loved one spending an excessive amount of funds he or she controls, make an inquiry. Look for transfers of funds or property that “don’t seem right.” Trust your instinct and remain diligent.

Do I HAVE to Report Abuse or Neglect?

Depending on your job or title, you may have an obligation to report abuse. If you are uncertain, contact your attorney.

State laws may vary slightly, but in no state is it legal to abuse a person. One state-to-state variable is the age which one is classified as a senior citizen.

In Virginia, you may have a duty to report abuse of elders or incapacitated individuals. Virginia Code 63.2-1606 mandates that certain people report abuse. Included in this group are licensed and registered nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, funeral service providers, psychologists, and numerous others. Virginia law requires the person reporting to do so “immediately.”

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