Statutory Protection of Older Persons

Nowadays, all the states have laws about abuse, neglect, or exploitation of older people, but every state has its own approaches to this law. Several states have a system of adult protective services for investigating and treating the reported abuses. There are also some states where laws for the victims of abuse, neglect, or exploitation can be heard as a civil case. Lastly, in most of the states, abuse or neglect of older persons is a crime.

Adult Protective Services

Basically, prior to any civil or criminal action started against nursing homes, a report should have been submitted to the adult protective services agency of your home state, or other systems in place for the reporting and investigating the allegations of the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of the elderly.

All of the states designed a system for making a report about the charges of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the elderly, for investigation of the charges, and when the charges are founded, for giving services to the elderly to remedy the problems and avoid the recurrence. The states have compulsory reporting requirements to these charges. If the agency decides that the allegation is founded, it will offer the elderly person the appropriate services like medical assistance, counseling, special transportation, assistance with money management or placement in a different residential environment.

Civil Actions Based on Statutes

There are several state legislatures that develop causes of action that involve the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of elderly persons, and permit the victims to file civil charges against the perpetrators and/or their employees. The causes of action authorize the damages to be given to the victims and may also allow the issuance of injunctions and retraining or protective orders, for immediate relief from continuing abuse or neglect. Aside from this, other states have special legal rights of action for violating the rights of the residents of long-term nursing care facilities. Basically, the statutory rights of residents of long-term nursing care facilities include the rights to be free from abuse and neglect, or the right to a safe environment.

To become eligible for Medicaid funds, long-term care facilities that qualify as “skilled nursing facilities” should meet the federal, statutory and regulatory requirements. These nursing homes nowadays belong in this classification and must meet the federal standards. A federal requirement is that the facility must adhere to the “Residents Bill of Rights,” that gives the residents the rights to be free from verbal, physical, mental, and sexual abuse, involuntary seclusion, and corporal punishment.


State definitions of abuse may differ from one state to another state, but most of the state’s definitions include the actions that cause emotional torment, psychological injury and suffering. The definitions may cover a wider extent of the acts, from verbally insulting or humiliating an elder person, to other actions that can cause emotional distress to, or instilling fear in, elderly person. Several states also include the isolation or unreasonably detaining an older person as a form of abuse. Isolation may also include preventing any communication with, or visits to, the elderly persons. The word “unreasonable confinement” states that, under some conditions, the movement of the elderly persons may reasonably have to be limited for his/her safety, confinement for more than what is necessary for the protection of the person can be considered an abuse.


The residents of nursing homes rely on others particularly on their basic needs like food, shelter, and medical treatment. Without or lack of these necessities can harm or endanger elderly persons as much as the intentional injury does. Some serious cases of neglect, as reported to the Congress about the abuse and neglect of elderly persons, include older people lying on their own waste and with bedsores, without human contact, and obviously needing medical attention and personal hygiene.

Most of the states describe neglect of elderly persons as the inability or failure to give the basic services vital to safety and health like food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and supervision.


Another form where elderly persons are harmed is when they are taken advantage of their caregivers. This exploitation include taking the money or property of the elderly persons, forced to do some sexual acts without permission, or being forced to do other services for the advantage of the caregivers. This form of exploitation may not endanger the safety and health of the elderly persons but this may lead to the loss of self-esteem or loss of their property. When these happen, this may need to call for state intervention.

There are many states that describe exploitation as the unjust use of the resources of the elderly person for the benefit of another person. The state laws apply different terms to indicate the unfair nature of the act like “illegal,” “improper,” “unjust,” and “without legal entitlement.” There are certain descriptions that simply means the misuse of the funds, property, or person of the elderly people. Other states state that to qualify as exploitation, the resources must be acquired without the consent of the elderly person, or attain through the undue duress, influence, false pretense, or deception.

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