Column: Elder abuse impacts not just seniors

By Anthony Quinn
Guest Columnist

Each year, June 15 is recognized as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to remind us that some of our most important citizens are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Elder abuse impacts not just seniors, but anyone over the age of 18 categorized as an endangered adult. An endangered adult is a person incapable by reason of mental illness, intellectual disability, dementia, habitual drunkenness, excessive drug use or other physical or mental incapacity of managing or directing the management of the individual’s property or providing self-care. The definition also includes a person harmed or threatened with harm due to neglect, battery or exploitation of the individual’s personal services or property. There are multiple crimes that are committed against endangered adults in our state. One such crime is battery. A battery occurs whenever a person knowingly or intentionally touches an endangered adult in a rude, insolent or angry manner. The crime increases in severity depending on the injury caused, if any. Another crime often committed against endangered adults is neglect. Neglect occurs when a caregiver for an endangered adult places the cared-for adult in a situation that threatens the adult’s life or health by failing to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

One of the most common crimes committed against endangered adults is exploitation. Exploitation is committed by a person who knowingly or intentionally exerts unauthorized use of the personal services or the property of an endangered adult for the person’s own profit or advantage. According to a 2011 study, older Americans lose a minimum of $2.9 billion annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation.

There are several well-recognized risk factors for elder abuse by caregivers. The risk factors include a current diagnosis of a mental health disorder, current abuse of alcohol, high levels of hostility, poor or inadequate preparations or training for caregiving responsibilities, assumption of caregiving responsibility at an early age, inadequate coping skills, exposure to abuse as a child, high financial and emotional dependence upon a vulnerable elder, lack of social support or lack of formal services such as respite care.

Elder abuse is most often perpetrated by the victim’s own family members. Roughly 90% of abusers are family members, most often adult children or spouses. A 2010 study reported that approximately 11% of the elderly population in the United States had experienced abuse or neglect in the year prior. Despite this high percentage, we know that elder abuse is largely unreported. The National Center on Elder Abuse suggests that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse is actually reported to authorities.

All of this is made more important because elders who experience abuse, neglect or self-neglect face considerably higher risk of premature death than elders who have not been mistreated. Older adults who are abused or mistreated are three times more likely to die within the next decade than the same age adults who are not mistreated.

As your prosecutor, I am working hard every day to protect these vulnerable members of our community. One resource we have in this effort is our Adult Protective Services unit. In Indiana, prosecutors manage the APS system. My office is engaged daily in the investigation of elder abuse, and in efforts to protect endangered adults through law enforcement actions, court orders and placement of endangered adults into safe care. We will continue these robust efforts.

As a community, I hope we will take the opportunity provided by this awareness day to be vigilant regarding the safety and well-being of elders and the endangered adults among us. If you suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation of an endangered adult, please report it to authorities. You may contact my office, or you can call the Indiana APS hotline at 800-992-6978. In an emergency, you should call 911.

For more information about elder abuse, risk factors and how to file a report, click here.

Anthony Quinn is a Dubois County prosecutor in the 57th judicial circuit. He can be reached at adquinn@duboiscountyin.org or 812-482-4725.




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