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Defining Elder Abuse

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Updated: June 5, 2006

Why a definition of elder abuse matters

Definition of Elder Abuse

The National Center of Elder Abuse estimate that between one and two million Americans over the age of 65 have been injured, exploited or mistreated by someone who they depend on for care. The Senate Special Committee on Aging puts their estimates even higher, possibly as high as 5 million victims every year.

What exactly is elder abuse and how is it defined?
Definitions of what constitutes elder abuse varies. The difficulties are in part due to the problems of stating at what point behavior tips into abuse. For instance, sometimes well intentioned caregivers will try to deal with difficult behavior with excessive behavior modification programs in the belief they are helping their relative. Is that abuse?

We do need a definition though so that society can respond and protect the vulnerable people within it.
Probably the best way to define the term elder abuse is to say it is a knowing, intentional, or a negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.

The Law and Elder Abuse
State laws do vary in their specificity. Legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws.

Laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one state to another, but all states have set up reporting systems. State law charges state and local Adult Protective Service agencies, even though their definitions vary, with the responsibility to protect and provide services to vulnerable adults.

The laws vary from State to State in the amount of authority they invest in state Adult Protective Services to oversee, investigate and provide follow up services to those who suffer abuse, neglect or exploitation.

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