A large percentage of the elderly cannot defend or protect themselves from abuse due to mental and physical restraints. They are simply at the mercy of their caregivers. When abuse or neglect is proven, enforcement often depends on the very definition of elderly abuse. For this reason, organisations and lawmakers strive to clearly define elderly abuse. The definition isn't merely for the purpose of using the term correctly, it aids in prevention of the crime.
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The authority figure on elderly abuse in the United States is the National Center on Elder Abuse governed by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The NCEA categorises abuse as either domestic, institutional or self-inflicted. Domestic elder abuse happens in the victim's home or their caregiver's home. This type of abuse usually involves a spouse, child or paid caregiver. Institutional abuse refers to mistreatment in a nursing home or other care facility. This type of abuse is at the hands of individuals contracted to give care or protect the victim. Self-neglect or abuse occurs when elderly refuse care. In this case, the victim and the abuser are the same person.
How prevalent is elderly abuse and how necessary is the definition of elderly abuse? Professor Catherine Hawes, Ph.D., in her testimony before the U.S. Committee on Finance answers this question. Approximately 1.6 million people in the U.S. reside in nursing homes. Of these residents, 40% are altered mentally. When polled, 44% of nursing home residents claimed they were abused with 36% of the staff members acknowledging participation in abuse over a year's time.
The definition of elderly abuse is used to create and enforce laws. In the United States, definition and enforcement is at the state level. Though federal definitions are issued both by the Older Americans Act and the NCEA, these are merely intended as guidelines. Most states adopt similar definitions but differ in their enforcement. Indiana, for example, is the only state where the criminal justice department is responsible for elderly abuse enforcement involving county prosecuting offices throughout the state. Five states, including New York, do not dole out penalties for not reporting suspected elderly abuse.
Beyond the basic definition of elderly abuse, laws (state to state) discern between neglect and abuse. Neglect normally involves a caregiver's failure to provide care and usually must be intentional. Abuse is the infliction of pain or harm, an intentional act. Some laws address active and passive neglect. Active neglect occurs when the caregiver wilfully denies care. Passive neglect happens when a caregiver cannot provide for the victim. Passive neglect is sometimes the result of a lack of money or ability.
A clear, legal definition of elderly abuse is beneficial to solving the problem. New forms of abuse prompt lawmakers to extend the definition. A prime example is financial abuse, the misappropriation of an elderly person's funds or credit by a caregiver. Many states now consider this a form of abuse and enforce it as such.
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