Senior Power:... awareness, prevention, and confrontation

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday June 08, 2010 - 12:15:00 PM

Elder abuse has not received adequate media exposure, funding from various levels of government, or recognition by the public. Within an institution, staff members are usually the guilty parties; outside, family members are often involved. The U.S. Census Bureau projects 62 million Americans will be age 65 or older by 2025. What’s needed?Awareness, prevention, and confrontation of elder abuse. 

“Elder abuse” is a general term used to describe certain types of harm to older adults. Some other commonly used, sometimes more or less specific, terms include: battering, domestic violence, elder mistreatment, intimate partner violence, OLDER PEOPLE—ABUSE OF. The San Diego District Attorney’s office has defined elder abuse as the physical or psychological mistreatment of a senior; it can include taking financial advantage or neglecting the care of a senior. Elder abuse crimes fall into several categories:  

Physical abuse, including assaults, batteries, sexual assaults, false imprisonment and endangerment;  

Physical neglect by a caregiver, including withholding medical services or hygiene that exposes the elderly person to the risk of serious harm;  

Psychological mental abuse, including making threats or the infliction of emotional harm;  

Financial abuse, including theft of personal items such as cash, investments, real property and jewelry and neglect. 


Worldwide, newspapers report elder abuse “a hidden national epidemic,” a crime in many locations. England’s Guardian reports a government-backed study to examine risk of abuse and neglect of older people on National Health Service wards. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports “Japanese visit for ideas on elder care: Social workers want to avoid senior abuse.” California Bay Area newspaper reportage has included: “Dementia patients mistreated, suit says”; “Elder abuse, fraud alleged at rest home near Lake Merritt;” “Murder, elder abuse charges for 2 in death of their client;” “Early involvement critical to curbing elder scams; “Elder Protection Court crucial to halting abuse; “Real estate broker pleads no contest to cheating senior;” “Senior-abuse agencies short on funds,” and “Elder facility accused of abuse.”  

March 22, 2010 TV news reportage of events associated with the Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (a for-profit corporation, 2929 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley) once again brought nursing homes and caretakers, and thereby, elder abuse, into the news. Briefly. (See also Planet April 1, 2010).Caregivers and nursing homes are allied in a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit and dependence. Approximately 25% of elder abuse occurs in nursing homes and other retirement facilities. 

Staff (and oversight agencies and board members) of senior centers, senior housing, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, retirement communities and ombudsmen, certain college and university classes, caregivers and related commissions and agencies are responsible for communicating elder abuse facts of life to their associates: what it is and where to go for help. Mandated reporter definitions and requirements apply in all counties within California (Welfare and Institutions Code section 15630-32.)  

Because the crime of elder abuse is under-reported, no statistic conveys the situation. A nationwide analysis of elder abuse estimated that reported cases increased 30% percent from 1997 to 2007. Each state has its own elder abuse laws, so definitions of abuse and prosecution vary across the country. State adult protective service programs, which handle elder abuse, are severely underfunded, a problem exacerbated by recession-era cuts in state budgets. Florida — the state with the second-highest 65+ population — reports of elder abuse have greatly increased. The California Legislature voted to eliminate the Attorney General’s Crime and Violence Prevention Center from the State’s 2008/09 budget. Five years have passed since the Sacramento County District Attorney declared that “We are on the cutting edge of a large movement around the country to establish Elder Death Interdisciplinary Review Teams, and little progress appears to have been made. 

The good news. President Obama has signed into law the Elder Justice Act and the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act as part of health care reform legislation, thus enacting what the non partisan 622-member Elder Justice Coalition considers “The most comprehensive federal legislation ever to combat elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.”  

The Elder Justice Act’s provisions include Adult Protective Servicesfunding and grants supporting the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. It establishes an Elder Justice Coordinating Council to make recommendations to the Secretary of HHS on coordination of activities of federal, state, local and private agencies and entities relating to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation; report recommendations are due in 2 years.  

The Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act creates a national program of criminal background checks for persons seeking employment in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. 

The decennial White House Conference on Aging is in the planning stages. Its purpose is to make recommendations to the President and Congress to help guide national aging policies for the next 10 years and beyond. The theme of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging is “The Shape of Things to Come.” Urge your U.S. Senators and Congressional Representative do their part to make consideration of elder abuse prominent.  


A neighbor who is concerned wants both confirmation that what s/he observes is indeed elder abuse and that something will be done about it. 

Some of the signs that warn of possible elder abuse are: 

An elder who looks dirty, has sores or rashes, poor hygiene, may be neglected. 

Helplessness or hesitation to talk openly. 

Depression, withdrawal, suicidal acts, refusing medical attention. 

Sudden social isolation. 

Sudden involvement of a previously uninvolved relative or a new friend. 

Pressure to change a will, power of attorney or to add a name to a property deed or to bank accounts. 

Disparity between lifestyle of the elder and the elder’s caregiver. 


What action can you take to cope with elder abuse? Here are a few suggestions geared to Berkeley, California, but which can be extrapolated.  

(1) If you suspect elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799 -7233. To connect with services by state and city, contact the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 or . In Alameda County, call Adult Protective Services at 866-225-5277. To report suspected elder mistreatment in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, call 800-231-4024.  

(2) Check libraries’ catalogs under the subject heading OLDER 

PEOPLE—ABUSE OF. If there is a publication that you want and it is not in the library catalog, request its acquisition. Don’t forget magazines and newspapers.  

The UCB Resource Center on Aging’s library data base [catalog]has titles of videos, books, pamphlets, newsletters and reports under the subject heading elder abuse. Phone before visiting: 510-643-6427; an appointment is necessary.  

(3) Urge your local government to acknowledge that “senior services” includes recognition that elder abuse is everywhere. Ask your area agency on aging, advisory commission on aging, and county supervisor to spearhead a task force on elder abuse. 

Berkeley’s Commission on Aging is “charged with identifying the needs of the aging, creating awareness of these needs, and encouraging improved standards of services to the aging.Council shall appoint one of its members as liaison.” Contact your Councilmember to convey your interest and concern, willingness to work on the problem and or awareness of a particular instance. Attend Commission on Aging meetings.  

Affiliate with a congenial and active senior center. Attend related classes and meetings. If there is none, start one! Consult center directors regarding their responsibility to program meetings, workshops, and seminars on elder abuse.  

(4) Get on online mailing lists of such organizations as the Elder Justice Coalition and the National Center on Elder Abuse, Washington, D.C. 

(5) Attend meetings of the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging. The Alameda County Area Agency on Aging is at 6955 Foothill Blvd., Oakland 94605. 510-577-1900.It operates a “Senior Information & Assistance” line: 800 510 2020. For information about your Area Agency on Aging,

(6) Check into the nearest chapters of the Older Women’s League and Gray Panthers.If they don’t evidence activism regarding elder abuse, don’t abandon them!Don’t agonize… organize! 

(7) Write letters to newspapers. When you read a newspaper article or reportage on the subject of elder abuse, write a letter commending (or critiquing as necessary) to the editor. When writing a letter, be sure to clear-copy someone else who has (or should have) similar concerns. 

(8) Convey your concern to your elected officials-- state legislators and federal Representative and Senators at both their local and Sacramento/D.C. addresses. Note whether their websites list ELDER ABUSE among current topics… or even senior issues!Speak up. 


Preventing Elder Abuse and Neglect in Older Adults: Tips from the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging.” 

“Seniors & the Law; A Guide for Maturing Californians.” Free from the California Bar Foundation.. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at 

No email attachments; use “Senior Power” for subject.