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Ending Elder Abuse

June 15th Marks Elder Abuse Awareness Day, But Statistics Show That Elders Need Our Advocacy More Than Ever.

With June 15, 2013 marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, it affords us all a timely opportunity to remember why we got into this profession. Obviously, I’m not implying that we all pursued legal careers to protect the elderly. But, we were driven in one way or another, by a passion for advocacy, weren’t we? It doesn’t matter whether we are defending a large insurance company, or an individual who has been injured; our job is to serve as an advocate. Yet when it comes to matters of elder abuse, our responsibility extends beyond our profession; we have a responsibility to the generations who came before us to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect as they age.

LAWS & STATISTICS
Unfortunately, statistics indicate that hundreds of thousands of seniors are abused and neglected each year. Not only does neglect and abuse run rampant within the walls of nursing homes, but according to the Department of Health and Human Services, elders lose an estimated 2.6 billion annually as a result of financial exploitation. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010 alone, nearly 6 million cases of elder abuse were reported in the United States. That equates to nearly 10% of the elderly population reporting neglect or abuse. If 10% weren’t alarming enough, the numbers are likely even worse, as the NCEA estimates that as few as 1 of 14 cases of elder abuse are ever reported.

As concerning as those numbers are, the numbers of elders being abused in some form is only predicted to climb as baby boomers continue to age and life expectancies increase. This massive generation (which currently accounts for roughly 78 million Americans)  is  predicted  to  more  than  double  the  population of senior citizens from approximately 40 million to roughly 89 million over the next 30+ years. Indeed elders will comprise a full 18% of the population when the last of the baby boomers reaches the age of 65 in 2030.

To address this growing concern, in 1991, California enacted a statutory scheme aimed at providing greater protection to our elders. With the enactment of the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (EADACPA), the Legislature declared that infirm elderly and dependent adults are a disadvantaged class and that few civil cases are brought in connection with their abuse due to problems of proof, court delays and the lack of incentives to prosecute. The Legislature further expressed its desire to direct special attention to the needs and problems of elderly persons, recognizing that they constitute a significant and identifiable segment of the population and that they are more subject to risks of abuse, neglect, and abandonment. Welfare and Institutions Code §15600.

Indeed, the civil justice system has been forced to step in, as more and more elders reside in nursing homes, which are increasingly being run by for-profit corporations. With a focus on profit, problems often arise as some seek to put revenue ahead of safety. Thankfully, “abuse” is broadly defined under Welfare and Institutions Code §15610.07, as either “(a) physical abuse, neglect, financial abuse, abandonment, isolation, abduction or other treatment with resulting physical harm or pain or mental suffering; (b) deprivation by a care custodian of goods or services that are necessary to avoid physical harm or mental suffering.” Welfare and Institutions Code §15657 further provides for significant remedies to redress injuries suffered by victims of elder or dependent adult abuse, including postmortem survival of certain damages.

Still, in spite of legislative efforts, which most recently included the enactment of AB 40 just this year, it’s going to take much more than just laws to help protect our elders. Standing up to fight against elder abuse will require advocates, but not exclusively in the professional sense. We can all help to prevent and certainly report suspected elder abuse when we know about it, or at least know what to look for.

SIGNS, SYMPTOMS & REPORTING
Any person who suspects that an elder is being neglected, physically abused or financially exploited should report it. When it comes to our elders, it is better to be safe than sorry. Many elders are scared to report out of fear of retaliation, lack of ability or because they do not want to get the abuser in trouble. Symptoms which may indicate abuse or neglect include: sudden weight loss, poor personal hygiene, excessive sleepiness or confusion with no apparent cause, lack of necessities to aid in mobility and quality of life, matted hair, dirty hands/fingernails, reports of nightmares & trouble sleeping, fear of caregiver or staff in a nursing home, emotional distress, depression and despair, withdrawal or detachment, bed sores, falls, unexplained bruising and signs of dehydration or malnutrition. Signs of financial abuse may include: unusual banking activity, bills not being paid, missing belongings, purchased items the senior cannot use, receiving a level of care well below what the senior can afford or major financial decisions the senior doesn’t seem capable to making.

If you suspect an elder is being abused in any way while in a long- term care facility such as a nursing home, report the incident to the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman, the California Department of Public Health and/or local law enforcement. Abuse outside of a long-term care facility should be reported to Adult Protective Services Agency or local law enforcement.

With a whopping 10,000 citizens reaching “elder” status every day, it’s imperative that we collectively work together to ensure that our beloved mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends do not become victims of abuse. It can happen to anybody. From reaching out to our loved ones more regularly to volunteering time and effort, we have a responsibility to protect and serve as advocates for the elderly, who inevitably become vulnerable as they get older. And there’s no better time than the present to begin to make this a priority in our lives. After all, one day all of us will probably be at least a little bit dependent upon others for ensuring that our welfare is protected.

Christopher Walton

Christopher C. Walton is the founder of Walton Law, APC, a San Diego based law firm dedicated to advocacy for elders who have suffered neglect or abuse. Chris can be reached at (619) 233-0011 or via email at cwalton@waltonlawapc.com.

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPractice Management

About the Author: Christopher C. Walton is the founder of Walton Law, APC, a San Diego based law firm dedicated to advocacy for elders who have suffered neglect or abuse. Chris can be reached at (619) 233-0011 or via email at cwalton@waltonlawapc.com.

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