We all want our elderly loved ones to be treated with the compassion and respect they deserve. When you entrust your family member or a friend to a nursing home, assisted living facility or private nurse, or to any other caregiver or trusted representative, you should be able to feel confident and comfortable that everyone caring for your loved one is competent and trustworthy.
Unfortunately, sometimes that trust is not deserved. If you have concerns that an elderly person is being abused or neglected, you can — and should — take action to protect both your loved one and other vulnerable seniors, from being victimized further.
Understanding What Constitutes Elder Abuse
Elder abuse can occur in several different ways.
“Domestic elder abuse” can occur when a family member, close friend or in-home caregiver abuses or neglects a senior citizen.
If the abuse or neglect occurs in a nursing home, assisted living facility, adult day care facility, residential health care facility or another institution, the abuse or neglect is referred to as “institutional abuse.”
Abuse can be physical, verbal, emotional, psychological or sexual, or it can take the form of neglect or even abandonment. Elder abuse can also include financial exploitation of a senior citizen.
Signs of Potential Elderly Abuse or Neglect
Elderly abuse in Essex County is generally defined as any “intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.”
Some common symptoms that can indicate some sort of abuse or neglect has occurred include:
- Excessive use of restraints
- Injuries due to falling
- Medical equipment that isn’t clean or in proper working order
- Medication errors
- Unexplained injuries
- Open wounds
- Neglecting the senior’s personal hygiene
- Emotional agitation
- Unusual behavior
- Withdrawn and uncommunicative
Of course, some of these symptoms may simply relate to the senior’s health condition generally; by themselves, individual symptoms do not necessarily show a pattern of abusive or neglectful behavior.
However, if you are concerned about abuse or neglect, these signs may indicate that your concerns are valid and that further investigation or action is warranted.
Legal Grounds for Taking Action Against Suspected Elder Abuse
Both federal and state laws are designed to protect our nation’s senior citizens from harm. When abuse or neglect occurs, the caregiver may have violated more than one of these laws.
The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 was designed to protect residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities from abusive behavior. Patients can assert their rights under the act by reporting abusive behavior.
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 classifies mistreatment of a vulnerable senior citizen as a criminal act.
New Jersey Laws include the NJ Adult Protective Services Act of 1994, which makes it a crime to abuse, neglect or exploit a vulnerable adult. Under this Act, an Adult Protective Services worker can provide for or arrange for certain services to protect the senior citizen from abusive, neglectful or exploitative actions.
Steps for Taking Legal Action Against Suspected Elderly Abuse — Essex County Resources
Victims of abuse, family members or friends who suspect abuse of a loved one in Essex County can take the following actions:
- File a complaint with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy, by calling 1-877-582-6995. When they receive reports of elderly abuse, Essex County officials act swiftly to investigate and protect seniors.
- You may also file a domestic violence complaint with your local police department.
- Those concerned about elder abuse may also file a complaint with Essex County Adult Protective Services, by calling 1-866-903-6287. Upon receipt of a complaint, the APS department will initiate an investigation within 72 hours. However, be aware that APS is not empowered to remove a vulnerable adult from their home without a court order, or without the individual’s or their legal representative’s consent and agreement.
- You can also take criminal action against the suspected abuser.
An Elder Abuse Attorney Can Help
Our senior citizens have earned respect and care. When abuse or neglect occurs, many elderly people may not be able to speak up to advocate for themselves, so the onus is on all of us to protect them — and others — from further harm.
You do not need an attorney to help you with suspected elderly abuse. Essex County has created reporting capabilities and lines of communication designed to make improving seniors’ care easier. However, an experienced elder abuse attorney can help you navigate an unfamiliar legal system at a time when you want to focus all of your attention on caring for your loved one.
If you choose to work with an attorney, look for a law firm that has experience working with the elderly, and choose an attorney with a track record of standing up for seniors’ rights.
Your attorney should be able to review the circumstances and help guide you through the legal process. Of course, the goal is first and foremost to protect your family member or friend from further elderly abuse. Essex County elder abuse attorneys can also play a valuable role in protecting the community, by helping to stop the abusive or neglectful behavior for good.