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This article will discuss elder abuse and adult protective services and answer questions such as: Who Are The Abusers in Elder Abuse? and What Should You Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse?

On July 1, 2013, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to expand the Illinois Department of Aging’s Elder Abuse and Neglect Program (now called “Adult Protective Service Program (APS)).  The purpose of the law is to prevent abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation of people age 60 or older or with disabilities between the ages of 18-59 living in the community.  

320 ILCS 20/.  

The Adult Protective Services mission statement is to protect older adults and person with disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation by investigating and providing or arranging for services, if needed, to stop or prevent further harm.  

Violence toward seniors or disabled adults is often unrecognized and is not reported.  Especially when families are involved, abuse, neglect or financial exploitation may not be seen as abuse to other family members.  The actions taken may have been accepted by family members in the past and are a way of life.  The abuse or neglect could be unintentional or intentional.   The adult protective services law spells out the duties and responsibilities of caregivers in any setting along with the duty to report and procedures to follow once the abuse is reported.

This article will review the Illinois Department of Aging’s definition of “abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation” along with the characteristics of abusers and victims.  Interventions for abuse victims are difficult since their abusers are often family members. The Illinois Department of Aging provides resources for non-professionals and professionals to assist not just the victims but also the abusers.  

Abuse, Neglect Or Financial Exploitation Defined

What behaviors fall into the category of abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation?

Physical abuse – causing the infliction of physical pain or injury to a person;

Sexual abuse – touching, fondling, or any other sexual activity with a person when the person is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened or physically forced;

Emotional abuse – verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, or intimidation so as to compel the person to engage in conduct from which she or he has a right to abstain or to refrain from conduct in which the person has a right to engage;

Confinement – restraining or isolating a person for other than medical reasons;

Passive neglect – the failure by a caregiver to provide a person with the necessities of life including, but not limited to food, clothing shelter or medical care, because of failure to understand the persons needs, lack of awareness of services to help meet needs, or lack of capacity to care for the person;

Willful deprivation – willfully denying assistance to a person who requires medication,

medical care, shelter, food, therapeutic device, or other physical assistance, thereby exposing that person to the risk of harm;

Financial exploitation – the misuse or withholding of a person’s resources to the disadvantage of the person and/or the profit or advantage of another person.

Victims of Elder Abuse

The purpose of “Adult Protective Services” is to protect the vulnerable population including persons age 60 or older or persons with disabilities from being taken advantage of or becoming victims of abuse.  These “victims” have the right to live in dignity and safety, free from mistreatment.  These “victims” should be able to make their own choices and to remain independent to the maximum degree possible, and when they need assistance, to be provided the highest quality care.  The “victims’ are vulnerable because they may suffer from dementia or physical impairment, they may be isolated or fearful of being abandoned.  

Who Are The Abusers in Elder Abuse?

Often the abuser is a family member.  An adult child, spouse, grandchild or other relative is often left with the responsibility to care for an elder or disabled family member.    The abuser may be a caregiver who is frustrated or isolated, maybe the only family member willing or able to take on the responsibility of “assisting” the elder adult or disabled person.  It is not uncommon that the abuser himself or herself needs assistance.  Finding resources to help the abuser will also assist in helping the victim.  Interventions may be needed to help the family come together for the benefit of both victim and abuser.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse?

The Illinois Department of Aging provides a Senior Help Line telephone number:  1-800-252-8966 which can be called anywhere in the state.  There are also telephone numbers provided for residents of nursing facilities; 1-800-252-4343 under the Department of Health’s Nursing Home Complaint Hotline and 1-800-226-0768 for residents who live in supportive living facilities (SLF’s).  

If you believe that a senior or disabled adult is in immediate danger, call 911.  

The Illinois Department of Aging provides services once the abuse is reported.  Even though these government services may be available, the family still has the right to contact a private attorney to file a Petition for Guardianship of the elder or disabled family member.  A court appointed guardian of the elder or disabled family member may be what is best to ensure that the family member is properly cared for going forward.

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