For some time now, Aristotle has been credited with suggesting that one of the best ways to judge any nation is by looking at the way that it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Regardless of whether that great Greek philosopher ever said or uttered those words, the premise is worthy of consideration. After all, it is one thing for a nation or a state to treat its healthy, powerful, and most capable members well. It is quite another when that same respect and attention is paid to those who are sick, vulnerable, and in need of assistance. Sadly, if we were to judge the state of Florida and much of America by those standards today, we would surely be found wanting when it comes to the way that we treat our elderly population.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have noted in the past that there are no official records kept to document elder abuse around the country. That hasn’t prevented state and local agencies from tracking cases however, and the numbers for Florida are dire indeed. Where elder abuse is concerned, the statistics reveal a serious problem that needs serious solutions. Between 2011 and 2015, there were roughly 9,000 verified instances of elder abuse and neglect in the state. Statistics from the Office of State Courts Administrator reveal, however, that only about 800 people were charged and fewer than 400 individuals were sentenced for criminal abuse and neglect during that same period.
On a year-by-year basis, the actual number of abuse and neglect cases involving seniors has increased by about 74 percent since 2011. Sadly, roughly nine out of every ten of these cases involved abuse and neglect that occurred in the home, and about a third of the abuse came from the victims’ own children, with women making up more than half of the abusers. Many of those abusers have been found to suffer from mental illnesses or alcohol and drug dependency.
So Why the Low Number of Prosecutions?
To most observers, it might seem strange to see many thousands of verified cases of neglect and abuse and just a few hundred actual criminal convictions. For a variety of reasons, however, these cases are reportedly very difficult to prosecute to a successful conclusion. Some experts who deal with these cases have noted that victims and their abusers often have emotional ties that make it difficult for seniors to come forward and testify to the abuse.
In some instances, those seniors blame themselves for the abuse, or fear that any action will result in their familial caregivers being punished. In other cases, the senior may simply believe that the abuse will intensify if they lodge a complaint. And then, of course, there are those victims who worry that prosecution of their abusive caregivers could result in placement in a nursing home. The fear of being utterly abandoned in a care facility is a very real worry for far too many elders.
It is worth noting too that those are just some of the common reasons why seniors fail to seek justice for the abuse and neglect they suffer. There is also a large segment of the senior population that no longer has the capacity to voice complaints. This includes seniors who have various types of dementia, or who have otherwise lost their ability to communicate such concerns. For many of these elderly Floridians, there is no effective way to report their abuse.
Judges’ Hands are Often Tied
To make matters worse, judges in the state often have their hands tied when it comes to helping seniors who cannot or will not testify about the abuse they’ve suffered. That has led some judges to act creatively to provide senior victims with greater safeguards against abuse. In one such case earlier this year, a judge decided to impose certain conditions on a caregiver whose senior patient first acknowledged abuse before changing her story later in the court process.
In that case, the judge ordered the suspected abuser to hire daytime aides to help with care, and ordered him to remain at home during the evening hours to ensure that his grandmother was not neglected. While the solution was far from perfect, it did at least provide some checks on the grandson’s behavior and ensured that the alleged victim would have access to other caregivers who could help to monitor her living situation.
Protect Your Loved Ones and Yourself
Elder abuse and neglect is a national and statewide tragedy, and we all need to do more to help prevent it from claiming more elderly victims. That starts with each of us as individuals, of course, and requires that everyone be more proactive in elder care.
- Be alert to the physical and mental well-being of your elderly loved ones. Unexplained bumps, bruises and injuries should be investigated. Question any sudden emotional withdrawal, obvious fear of caregivers, or other suspicious changes.
- Be careful about who you grant power of attorney, since incapacity could prevent you from changing that decision later.
- Learn about which authorities you need to contact if you’re the victim of abuse or neglect, or suspect that a loved one or another individual is being mistreated.
- Contact an experienced elder law attorney with expertise in this area of the law. This is especially important when you fear retaliation from the abuser or are unsure about how to proceed to protect your rights and interests.
At Kulas & Crawford, Medicaid & Estate Planning Attorneys, our elder law experts can help you and your loved ones to deal with situations involving suspected abuse and neglect. We can help to provide the advice and counsel you need to safeguard your interests and preserve your safety in any cases where this type of mistreatment has occurred. We also provide incapacity planning and other critical services that can help to ensure that you and your family have protections in place to prevent any type of neglect or abuse. If you’d like to learn more about how an Florida elder law attorney can help you and your senior loved one cope with the rising tide of elder abuse, then call today at (772) 398-0720, or contact us at our website.