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Stealing candy from a baby may be easy but abusing the elderly is more profitable and unfortunately very popular. Despite the universal admonition that we must respect our elders, people of advanced age are abused across cultures and classes in the United States. The US Department of Health & Human Services estimates that one in every ten elderly Americans is mistreated by loved ones or strangers.
Elder abuse takes many forms -- including financial, mental, physical, and sexual -- and can be domestic or institutional. Although state statutory definitions vary, the term "elder abuse" refers to the mistreatment or exploitation the old -- meaning a person aged 60 or 65 and above. Elder abuse applies to a wide range of ills with varying degrees of severity. Abuse is everything from abandonment or neglect of older parents by adult children to misallocation of funds or property by a professional. If you suspect it is happening, it is important to report it.
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Elder abuse is widely underreported, often due to the personal relationship between the parties involved. Frail and feeble adults relying on younger family members for care are unlikely to contact strangers to report mistreatment. Very few people even know about services that protect the elderly. This, coupled with the federal government's traditionally fractured approach to adult protective services, can make it difficult to know where to turn when abuse is suspected.
The National Adult Protective Services Association notes that since the 1980s there has been an epidemic of elder abuse across the country, but there hasn't been a unified approach to the problem. There is no one federal agency tasked with handling elderly mistreatment and the states have had to improvise. Each state has its own framework for elder abuse and adult protective services -- about a third of these APS offices are also charged with protecting other vulnerable adult populations, not just the elderly, and the work falls either under a health department or department of social services.
See Something, Say SomethingTo find the appropriate agency to report elder abuse to in your state, see the National Center on Elder Abuse's State Resources. As the NCEA points out, it is important to report abuse even if you just suspect mistreatment. Call Adult Protective Services to speak to an expert who is informed and can initiate an investigation if necessary. The agency can also help locate resources for stressed caregivers as well.
But remember that in the case of emergencies, elder abuse is not unique. If you see an elderly person at risk who requires immediate assistance, just call 911 and ask the police for help. An elderly personal victimized by family members or care givers may also need the assistance of an attorney.