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We love our senior citizens and we do our best to take care of them, but they’re vulnerable. Tragically, elder abuse is all too common. In Ohio alone, tens of thousands of cases are reported every year and tens of thousands more go unreported. What is elder abuse and what are the elder abuse laws in Ohio? Here are the big takeaways:
- Nearly 1 in 10 elders is a victim of abuse; about 2/3 of the victims are female
- Neglect is the most common type of elder abuse
- 2/3 of victims are abused by their children or spouses
- The Older Americans Act protects elders at a federal level
- Ohio’s Adult Protective Services law protects elders at a state level, creating standards for care and reporting and investigating reports of abuse
What is Elder Abuse?
Under Ohio law, elder abuse is defined as “the infliction upon an adult by self or by others of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or cruel punishment, with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish.” Ohio Rev. Code § 5101.6(A).
Elder abuse may be physical, sexual, mental, or financial. It also includes failing to meet the basic needs of the elder – neglect is the most common type of elder abuse. Under Ohio law, it’s illegal for a caretaker to fail to provide “the goods and services necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness.” Ohio Rev. Code § 5101.6(K). In other words, a caretaker is legally obligated to provide for the needs of the elder. A caretaker is anyone who has taken responsibility for the person in question, either voluntarily, by contract, as a result of a family relationship, or by court order. Ohio Rev. Code § 5101.6(C).
It is often inflicted by someone that the elderly person knows. In fact, more than 2/3 of the perpetrators of elder abuse are children or spouses of the victim and more than 40% of murder victims over the age of 60 are killed by their children.
What Are the Elder Abuse Laws in Ohio?
At a federal level, the Older Americans Act is designed to protect our elders from abuse. It allocates funds to the National Center On Elder Abuse for the study of abuse and development of preventative legislation and programs. It also creates the legislation that Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs must follow, such as looking into allegations of harm within one business day.
In Ohio, the law mandates that professional caregivers must report suspected abuse to the county Department of Job and Family Services immediately. The same law applies to attorneys, clergymen, peace officers, doctors, clergy, and anyone else who might learn of the abuse in a personal or professional capacity. Ohio Rev. Code § 5101.61(B). These reports are collected in a statewide database. Ohio Rev. Code § 5101.612.
Adult Protective Services (APS), a division of Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services, is responsible for addressing allegations of abuse. They’re required to investigate within 24 hours of the report and they have to actually meet with the alleged victim and whoever reported the abuse (if possible) and determine whether protection is necessary. Ohio Rev. Code § 5101.62. Remember, abuse doesn’t have to involve hitting or being emotionally cruel to the victim. Neglect also constitutes elder abuse. If you’re a caretaker (either in a professional or familial capacity), you’re required to provide for the elderly person’s needs.
If APS believes that abuse is occurring, it may petition the court a restraining order or an emergency order to protect the elderly person while a hearing is scheduled. The hearing will determine whether abuse is occurring and what remedies may be taken, including civil and criminal penalties for the abuser.
Who Suffers from Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is believed to be significantly under-reported – experts believe that less than 1 in 14 cases of abuse in domestic settings and 1 in 25 cases of financial abuse are ever reported to authorities – so it’s difficult to say with certainty what demographics are most at risk. Of reported cases, about 2/3 are female and 2/3 are white.
Abuse, especially neglect, may be particularly prevalent in a nursing home setting – one study found that 95% of nursing home residents reported that they had been neglected or seen another patient being neglected; 44% said they had been abused.
How Can You Tell if an Elder is Being Abused?
In many cases, it can be difficult to know if abuse has taken place. The victims are often isolated and unable to reach out for help. Some victims suffer from dementia or other neurodegenerative disorders and may not be able to articulate what is happening to them. Some feel a sense of loyalty towards their abuser (such as in the case of a family member) or feel that reporting their abuse could expose them to the risk of retaliation. Their abuser might have convinced them that they are alone and that nobody cares enough to help them. Many times, in situations of financial abuse, the victim trusts the person who is cheating them.
Some signifiers that might indicate that elder abuse is taking place include unexplained injuries or signs of violence such as cuts and bruises. Indications of sexual abuse can include sexual diseases or inappropriate language directed at the victim. Neglect might be suggested by a lack of hygiene or unexplained physical changes such as extreme weight loss, misuse of medication, or broken physical aids such as walkers or glasses. Emotional abuse might be caused by intimidation tactics, ridicule, threats, or withholding help. Financial abuse, such as extortion, can be indicated by abnormal banking activities, a change in titles, and an inability to pay bills.
How Can We Protect Our Elders?
The elder abuse laws Ohio has put in place are designed to investigate and handle reports of abuse. That’s an important function, but it’s obviously best to stop abuse from happening at all. That means staying in frequent contact with your elders and making sure they have a network of people they can talk to – isolated individuals who are dependent on a single caregiver are likely to be at the highest risk for abuse. Listen to their complaints and check in with the other people who care about them to make sure they’re being cared for appropriately.
If you believe you know of a case of elder abuse, please report it immediately to your county APS office.
If you’ve been the victim of abuse or if a loved one has suffered abuse, please contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation. You may be entitled to compensation for the harms you suffered; we can also help you get out of a dangerous situation and protect others who might be vulnerable to the same abuser.