Some cultures revere their elders. Others ignore them. To its detriment, America leans more toward the latter. The elderly are among the most exploited groups in America. According to the NCOA, one in ten elders in America has endured some form of elder abuse. Tragically, only about one in fourteen of these cases is reported.
But abuse isn’t the only area where elders are mistreated. Unlike groups such as the disabled or women, the elderly aren’t a protected class. This means that they can legally face far more discrimination and are much more vulnerable due to their natural decline in physical and mental ability.
One common place elders have their rights violated is in the workplace. Cultural expectation is that workers retire in their early-to-mid 60s so that younger workers can take their place and the company doesn’t have to accommodate the needs of an aging person. However, people are living much longer lifespans now which require them to work longer in order to have enough money to live. But finding a job after retirement, or even in your 50s, is tough due to ageism in hiring practices.
Another place where the elderly are vulnerable is through financial abuse. Anyone from phone scammers to nursing home workers and even family members can use an elderly person’s cognitive decline or lack of knowledge about technology to try to take their money. Financial abuse is by far the most reported form of elder abuse.
The most-profiled cases are those of nursing home abuse. In addition to financial abuse, elders in some homes are physically abused, emotionally abused, neglected, and even sexually abused. When family lives too far away to check in on their loved ones, or the abused person cannot contact family, these acts can go completely unnoticed. One recent trend is for families to install cameras secretly in the rooms of nursing homes to catch abusers in the act. At least one state is working on making this a right for families.
A special civil rights case is elderly prisoners. Thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, we have far more elderly people in our prisons than ever before. Prisoners over the age of 65 rarely commit further crimes (around 4% according to the ACLU) and cost more per prisoner than non-elders due to health problems. Compassionate release for very old and sick elders is another battleground for elder rights.
Elders may not be a protected class, but they still have all of the rights of any other citizen in the United States. Nevertheless, due to our culture, we often don’t take care of our elders as well as we should. This leaves them vulnerable to abusers and exploiters who would violate their rights.
If you have an elderly loved one in your life, you should be aware of the types of elder abuse and look for signs that it is happening, especially if your loved one is undergoing cognitive decline. Help them prepare a will and medical directives in advance so their wishes and assets have legal protection. And if you discover elder abuse, contact The Cochran Firm for a consultation or call 911 if it is a life-threatening situation.