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Elder Abuse

Last Updated 4/30/2010 12:28:49 PM

Elder abuse is doing something or failing to do something that results in harm to an elderly person or puts a helpless older person at risk of harm. Elder abuse can happen within the family. It can also happen in settings such as hospitals or nursing homes or in the community.

Elder abuse is a serious problem. Elder abuse is one of the most under-reported problems in the country because victims may be ashamed, unable to report it, or fearful of reprisals if they speak up. All states have laws against elder abuse. The County of Santa Clara Adult Protective Services Department defines reportable elder abuse as:

  • Physical: "Physical abuse means assault; battery; unreasonable physical constraint, or prolonged or continual deprivation of food or water; sexual assault; use of physical or chemical restraint or psychotropic medication for punishment, for a period beyond that for which the medication was ordered or for any purpose not authorized by the physician and surgeon."
  • Neglect: "The negligent failure of any person having the care or custody of an elder or dependent adult to exercise that degree of care that a reasonable person in a like position would exercise."
  • Financial: "Takes or assists in taking, secreting, appropriating, or retaining real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult to a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both."
  • Abandonment: "The desertion or willful forsaking of an elder or a dependent adult by anyone having care or custody of that person under circumstance in which a reasonable person would continue to provide care and custody."
  • Isolation: "Acts intentionally committed for the purpose of preventing, and that do serve to prevent, an elder or dependent adult from receiving his or her mail or telephone calls."
  • Abduction: "The removal from this state and the restraint from returning to this state, of any elder or dependent adult who does not have the capacity to consent to the removal from this state and the restraint from returning to this state, as well as the removal from this state or the restraint from returning to this state, of any conservatee without the consent of the conservator or the court."
  • Self Neglect: "The negligent failure of the person themselves to exercise that degree of care that a reasonable person in a like situation would exercise."
  • Other (non-mandated): e.g. deprivation of goods and services; psychological/mental

Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether abuse is present or reportable, especially if it is self neglect, as in the case of an older person not being able to take care of their own needs properly. Some indicators of possible abuse include bruises, burns, or cuts, dehydration or malnourishment, expressions of shame or fear, overmedication or over sedation, poor personal hygiene and sudden bank account withdrawals or closings.

All community members may report elder abuse to help APS ensure that victims of abuse can get the help they need as soon as possible. If you are in doubt, you can call the Adult Protective Services at 1-800-414-2002 or 408-975-4900 and speak to an Intake Social Worker who will determine whether the situation meets the required criteria for Adult Protective Services involvement. If so, a social worker is assigned to investigate and assess the level of risk. The social worker will then develop a plan with the older adult's participation, if possible, which may include arranging for emergency services and/or referral or linkage to community services, benefits, and medical professionals. They also coordinate with family members or friends of the older person when appropriate.

If you are concerned about an older person in a nursing home or other facility, you may contact the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program on its 24-hour crisis line at 800-231-4024. You may also call the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) at 800-474-1116.

El Camino Hospital is collaborating with the Protecting Our Elders: Interfaith Response to Elder Abuse and Neglect Task Force. This initiative involves faith communities in Santa Clara County working together to educate their staff and members to identify and respond to suspected elder abuse in their faith communities.

Crime and Fraud

Older people are often targets for robbery and insurance, home repair, telephone and Internet scams. They are also targets for Identity Theft. Here are some suggestions for increasing your safety at home and preventing fraud and identity theft:

  • Keep your doors and windows locked when you are in the house or away
  • Look through the peephole or window before you open your door. Ask any stranger for identification and don't open your door if you feel uneasy
  • Avoid keeping large amounts of money or jewelry in the house
  • Place irreplaceable documents in a safety deposit box
  • Say no to any telephone pitch. You can hang up on telephone salespeople.
  • Don't give your credit card or bank account numbers to people who call you
  • Deals that seem too good to be true are often rip-offs.
  • Be on guard about hiring people who come door-to-door for home repair work.
  • Shred or tear up everything that has personal information on it.
  • Don't respond to e-mails asking for personal information like the numbers of your credit card or bank account.
  • Be very careful when purchasing things online. Use only websites of trusted companies.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer and keep it up-to-date.
  • Report any identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338 or go to www.ftc.gov/idtheft to learn what you need to do if you suspect identity theft.

(From the National Institute on Aging)


Protecting Our Elders; Interfaith Initiative of Santa Clara County; contact

National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)

Elder Financial Protection Network

Crime and Older People (In English and Spanish) by The National Institute of Aging

Identity Theft Resource Center, A Nonprofit Organization

Federal Trade Commission, Report Identity Theft