Elder Abuse

What is elder and vulnerable adult abuse?

Abuse means the willful action or inaction that causes injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, neglect or punishment of a vulnerable adult. In instances of abuse of a vulnerable adult who is unable to express or demonstrate physical harm, neglect, pain or mental anguish, the abuse is presumed to cause physical harm, pain or mental anguish.  Abuse includes neglect, sexual abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse and exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

Definition of Elder/Vulnerable Adults

Full definition of Washington State Law

  • Sixty years of age or older who has the functional, mental, or physical inability to care for himself or herself; or
  • Found incapacitated under chapter 11.88 RCW; or
  • Who has a developmental disability as defined under RCW 71A.10.020; or
  • Admitted to any facility; or
  • Receiving services from home health, hospice, or home care agencies licensed or required to be licensed under chapter 70.127 RCW; or
  • Receiving services from an individual provider.

What to look for

Abuse comes in many forms. Know the signs and symptoms of abuse and don't be hesitant to act on a gut feeling. Educate those around you about Elder Abuse and what to do if they believe a vulnerable adult is being abused.

Elder abuse can happen at the victim's own home, a nursing home, or in a group home.  While many older people live on their own or with their spouses, children, siblings, or other relatives, a significant number live in institutional settings. When elder abuse happens, family, other household members, and paid caregivers are usually the abusers. Although there are extreme cases of elder abuse, often the abuse is subtle, and the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is not always easy to discern.It isn't just infirm or mentally impaired elderly people who are vulnerable to abuse. Elders who are ill, frail, disabled, and mentally impaired or depressed are at greater risk of abuse, but even those who do not have these obvious risk factors can find themselves in abusive situations and relationships.Stay alert to possible signs and symptoms of the different forms of abuse, signs include:

  • Unexplained injuries or behavior
  • Vulnerable adult appears afraid of a person or certain situations
  • Vulnerable adult is kept isolated from others
  • Vulnerable adult reports abuse
  • Vulnerable adults basic needs not being addressed, such as food and bathing, or medical needs such as doctors appt and medications   

Protection Orders

  • A petition for an order of protection may be brought by and interested person.
  • "Interested person" must demonstrate to the court:
    • Interest in the vulnerable adult's welfare
    • A good faith belief intervention is necessary
    • The person is unable to protect their own interests
  • A process is created for situations when a petition is brought on behalf of a person who does not want it.
  • Order of protection may last 5 years
  • Court may not charge a filing fee
  • The Administrative Office of the Courts must develop standard forms, instructions and courts staff handbook.
  • Court clerks must make the standard forms and instructions available free of charge.

Financial Exploitation

  • Use or acquisition of an elder's money or assets contrary to the elder's wishes, needs or best interests.
  • For the abuser's personal gain.
  • Reasonably knowing that the victim is an elder or dependant adult.

What are the kinds of financial exploitation?

  • Fradulent changes in wills and trusts
  • Credit card fraud
  • Bank account fraud
  • Real estate fraud
  • Outright theft of money and personal belongings
  • Fraudulent sales activities which can include life insurance annuities, and home repair scams
  • Predatory lending
  • Forgery
  • Theft by undue influence

Signs of theft by undue influence

"Undue Influence" refers to a form of manipulation or deception used to gain assets without the true consent of the victim.

  • Sudden decrease in outgoing lifestyle
  • Prominent signs of elderly person's confusion
  • Loss of valuables
  • Unfounded accusations against family
  • Recent acquaintances moving in
  • Caregivers promising life long care

If you suspect financial exploitation of your parent(s)?

  • Talk to your parents. Get a feel for what they understand, what they want and what they do with their time.
  • If you feel that you parents are at risk for the physical or financial welfare, file a report with Adult Protective Services (APS) 1-866-363-4276. Seattle Intake (206) 341-7660. APS will do a home visit and make an assessment of their needs.
  • Have medical assesments done. It will be necessary to have medical documents to support housing and/or financial assistance.
  • Ensure that your parents have prepared a will.
  • Consider obtaining Power of Attorney (POA). There are varying powers available and need not take control from your parent's ability to make their own decisions. A POA is very helpful when needing to access medical or financial records.
  • Know your parents financial history. Learn where they bank, have their investments and what their spending habits are.