Elder abuse has changed from a subject rarely discussed to a national dilemma that gains media headlines, Jonathan Golding writes on the National Consumer Law Center website. Unfortunately, Golding notes, when an elder abuse case reaches the courtroom, a juror’s task may be particularly difficult. Given the inherent privacy and secrecy surrounding elder abuse, these cases often lack physical evidence and corroborating witnesses.
In fact, most incidents of elder abuse are never brought to the judicial system in the first place, as Lori Stiegel observes on the American Bar Association website. That’s lamentable, as courts could play a critical role in protecting victims from abuse and enabling them to recoup financial losses they have suffered.
There are numerous reasons victims of elder abuse do not seek relief or compensation, Stiegel points out, including these:
- Not wanting to get the abuser in trouble
- Dependence on the abuser
- Fear of further abuse or retaliation
- Fear of being placed in a nursing home or other institutional setting
- Difficulty traveling to a lawyer’s office or courthouse
- Lack of available substitute caregiver
- Physical evidence and witnesses may be unavailable
Despite all these obstacles, there has been significant growth in case law related to elder abuse, Stiegel notes. No longer is elder abuse viewed as solely a social problem to be addressed by human-service agencies and aging organizations; we are now beginning to view abuse as a legal problem to be addressed through legal action.
This change is due to many factors, Steigel posits, including:
- There are more older people
- There are more incidents of elder abuse
- Our society has become more litigious
- Several states have enacted elder abuse statutes
According to Indiana Adult Protective Services, “There are almost one million people in Indiana aged 65 and over, and that number is growing. Each year, more than 40,000 cases of elder abuse and neglect occur in Indiana, and it is estimated that only 1 in 14 cases are reported.
“It is estimated that 80% of the care provided for the elderly is given by family members. Ironically, the abuser is often a family member who takes on the responsibility of care with the best of intentions, but due to the inevitable financial or emotional stress of the situation, loses control. National studies show that before the first abusive act, the caregiver typically has been caring for the elderly for 9 years, often with very little recognition or help.”
As elder care attorneys, we realize that long term care planning can help families cope with the many issues and questions surrounding the care of elder family members. Planning often includes investigating:
- The availability of veterans’ aid benefits
- Care option in each stage of the aging process, including options under Medicaid
- Guardianship for incapacitated/incompetent loved ones
- Special needs planning for disabled loved ones to ensure continued receipt of government benefits
While no magic bullet exists that can address all the financial and emotional stress of elder care, advance financial and legal planning can go a long way, we believe, towards preventing elder abuse before it ever reaches a courtroom.
– by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team