Protecting Your Loved One from Elder Abuse
According to the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative, at least 10% of adults age 60 or older will experience some form of elder abuse, with some older adults simultaneously experiencing more than one type of abuse. With Florida’s retirement communities increasing, so does the opportunity for our valued yet vulnerable senior residents to fall victim to elder abuse. The impact of elder abuse can hurt relationships, diminish their quality of life, and significantly impact both physical and mental health.
If you suspect elder abuse, call Florida’s Abuse Hotline; at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873). Our firm is dedicated to protecting our community and keeping our seniors safe. We have worked with families for almost thirty years, specializing in elder law, and would like to provide some helpful tips on preventing your loved one from falling victim to abuse. If you find your loved one has been abused, call our office for a free consultation today.
Types of Abuse
In Florida, elder abuse is taken very seriously and can come with both civil and criminal penalties. There are five key types of elder abuse: financial exploitation, caregiver neglect, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. 1 in every 10 seniors falls victim to abuse, most commonly by financial exploitation or from caregiver neglect. Legislation has been passed to ensure our senior community can retire peacefully and safely. There are significant penalties if convicted, and victims are entitled to hold perpetrators accountable in civil court and criminal court.
Abuse is defined as any willful act or threatened act by a relative, caregiver, or household member which causes or is likely to cause significant impairment to a vulnerable adult’s physical, mental, or emotional health.
Financial abuse: Florida Law (Statute Section 825.103) defines this as wasting, embezzling, or intentionally mismanaging the assets of the principal or beneficiary. Financial abuse represents the most significant percentage of elder abuse cases.
Caregiver neglect: A caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect an elderly person from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person. Neglect may also include abandoning care of the patient, such as not providing needed medication, food, or shelter.
Psychological abuse: or ‘emotional abuse’ is verbal or mental abuse where perpetrators insult, humiliate or threaten to control or manipulate the victim.
Physical abuse: any intentional act causing injury or trauma.
Sexual abuse: unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats, or taking advantage of victims unable to give consent.
Prevention is Key
The first line of defense is to have a well-developed estate plan. This helps families avoid costly legal battles and clarifies your loved one’s wishes. We built our reputation by customizing plans that work for families and safeguard vulnerable loved ones. Elder law goes beyond just creating a will; our firm covers a variety of needs, from drafting a power of attorney, setting up trusts, and addressing medical and health treatment plans. Having a solid estate plan reduces the opportunity for potential abuse.
The second line of defense is not just to understand the types of abuse but to recognize warning signs and know what to do if it happens to your loved one. If you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to contact the authorities and our office. Here are a few things you can do:
- Check on your loved ones often. Visits and phone calls help you monitor their daily/weekly activities and well-being. The more involved you are, the more informed you will be.
- Know the warning signs of abuse. There are many types of abuse, and some signs may not be as apparent as others.
- Report it. Talk to your friends and family and make sure your loved one has a solid support system. Go straight to the top, let caregivers know you are paying attention, and make them aware of what is happening.
- Be present. If caregivers know you are around, they know you will notice changes in behavior, injuries, and other signs of abuse.
According to the NIH National Institute on Aging, there are many warnings that suggest your elderly loved one may be suffering from abuse. While every situation is different, some more common red flags to look out for are when the patient:
- Seems depressed, confused, or withdrawn
- Is isolated from friends and family
- Has unexplained bruises, burns, or scars
- Appears dirty, underfed, dehydrated, over or undermedicated, or not receiving needed medical care
- Has bedsores or other preventable conditions
- Recent changes in banking or spending patterns
Abusers can be subject to civil and criminal penalties depending on what transpired. Chapter 825 under Florida Statutes breaks down abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elderly persons (and disabled adults). If your loved one is a victim, you might be entitled to compensation, including legal fees.
Third Degree Felony: When a person knowingly or willfully abused an elderly person without causing great bodily harm. Punishable by up to five years in prison.
Aggravated Neglect (Second Degree Felony): Caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect an elderly person from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person. Or the omission to provide care, supervision, and services necessary. Punishable up to 15 years in jail.
Financial Abuse: This can be either a First or Second-degree felony, determined by the amount of money stolen. If the amount is between $10,000 to $50,000, it is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in prison, fifteen years’ probation, and a $10,000 fine. If the amount is more than $50,000, it is a first-degree felony punishable by up to thirty years in prison, thirty years’ probation, and a $10,000 fine.
First Degree Felony: Victim suffered bodily harm or permanent disfigurement. Punishable up to thirty years in jail.
The Next Step: Contact an Elder Law Attorney
When your family member is a victim of this type of abuse, it is imperative that you act quickly. If they are in immediate danger, call 911; otherwise, contact the Elder Helpline toll-free at 1-800-963-5337. Then call us for answers and justice. Let our experienced attorney protect your rights and help you navigate the best course of action. Time is crucial, and decisions must be made quickly. Call today at 386-255-1925; the initial consultation is free. You may also contact us online to schedule a consultation at our Daytona Beach office.