Preventing Elder Abuse

Protect Your Loved Ones from Elder Abuse 
How to Recognize and Prevent Physical and Financial Abuse

High profile cases of elder abuse have often made headlines in the last few years, but elder abuse wasn’t actually recognized as a societal issue until the early 1980’s. Elder abuse is now in the forefront of issues in California due to the recognition of the widespread nature of elder abuse and the rapid growth in the population of California’s seniors. At least one in seven people in California are now considered seniors. In Sonoma County, seniors number more than 76,000, which is more than 17% of the population.

Many of these seniors are, or will be, victims of elder abuse. Statistics show that approximately five to ten percent of older persons are victims of elder abuse. However, only 1 in 14 elder abuse cases are reported to the authorities. California elder abuse law concerns persons 65 years of age and older. The law defines two basic types of elder abuse: (1) physical abuse, including neglect, abandonment, isolation, and abduction; (2) financial abuse, which is taking an elder's money or property for a wrongful use, by a person who has care, custody, or is in a position of trust of the elder.

California law provides special legal protection for elderly persons. The legal  protection include civil claims for damages which include recovery of punitive damages, attorneys fees and restitution. Criminal penalties also apply in many cases.

Recognizing Elder Abuse

The best defense against elder abuse is recognizing that it is occurring and getting help. The following are signs that elder abuse may be occurring:


  • Evidence that personal care is lacking or neglected
  • Signs of malnourishment (e.g. sunken eyes, loss of weight)
  • Chronic health problems both physical and/or psychiatric
  • Dehydration

Physical Abuse

  • Frequent unexplained injuries accompanied by a habit of seeking medical assistance from a variety of locations
  • Reluctance to seek medical treatment for injuries or denial of their existence
  • A physical examination reveals that the older person has injuries which the caregiver has failed to disclose
  • Repeated time lags between the time of any "injury or fall" and medical treatment

Financial Abuse

  • Unusual banking activity (e.g. large withdrawals, switching of accounts from one bank to another, ATM activity by a homebound elder)
  • Bills not being paid
  • Bank statements no longer come to the older adult
  • Documents are being drawn up for the senior to sign but the senior cannot explain or understand the purpose of the papers
  • Change in the elder’s will, naming a new beneficiary
  • Change in elder’s attorney, accountant or other professional
  • Personal belongings, such as jewelry, art, or furs, are missing
  • Recent acquaintances, housekeepers, "care" providers, etc. declare affection for the older person and isolate the elder from friends or family

Preventing Elder Abuse

Families can help their elderly family members avoid abuse by the following:

  • Maintain close ties with aging relatives and friends
  • Ensure that appropriate legal documents, such as durable powers of attorney for finances and health care are in place prior to an elder’s lack of legal competence to sign documents
  • Anticipate potential incapacitation and make plans based on discussion of the elder's wishes
  • Examine closely your family's ability to provide long-term, in-home care Don't offer personal home care unless you thoroughly understand the demands and can meet the responsibility and costs involved
  • Explore alternative sources of care
  • Don't ignore your limitations and overextend yourself
  • Don't expect family problems to disappear once the elder moves into the home
  • Respect the older person as a person and don’t intrude unnecessarily upon his/her privacy

An elder can help avoid abuse by the following:

  • Maintain social contacts; increase network of friends
  • Keep in touch with old friends and neighbors, even after a move
  • Develop a buddy system with a friend outside the home
  • Ask friends to visit at home
  • Participate in social and community activities
  • Volunteering in the community
  • Get legal advice concerning arrangements for future disability (e.g. powers-of-attorney)
  • Review will periodically
  • Don't sign a document without review by an attorney or other trusted person
  • Arrange for direct deposit of social security and pensions

With the rapidly increasing senior population, elder abuse will continue to be a problem in California. If you suspect that an elderly person is being abused in Sonoma County, call the Adult Protective Services at (800) 667-0404. If the abused person is in a nursing home, residential care home or assisted living facility call the Ombudsman at (707) 526-4108.

Law Office of Adams and Rafferty, P.C.

532 Mendocino Ave, Suite 104
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 542-6644

19900 Beach Boulevard, Suite B
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
(949) 274-4760

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(619) 419-0212

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