Let’s do the math. In Kansas there are more than 543,000 adults age 60 and over. According to statistics provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse, one in every 10 people over the age 60 who live at home are victims of elder abuse. That means there are a potential 54,300 cases of elder abuse in Kansas alone.

     The really bad news is that only one in 23 cases of elder abuse are reported.

What is elder abuse?

     In general, elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws. Kansas’ elder abuse law went into effect July 1, 2014.

     The laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one state to another, however in Kansas, individuals can be criminally charged for both physical and financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult. In Kansas, you can be charged with elder abuse if you:

     Take the personal property or financial resources of an elder person for your personal benefit by taking control, title, use or management of the personal property or financial resources of an elder person through:

     1. Undue influence, coercion, harassment, duress, deception, false representation or

     2. Violation of the Kansas power of attorney act.

     3. A violation of the Kansas uniform trust code

     Individual can also be charged with elder abuse if they fail to or deprive an elder person of treatment, goods or services that are necessary to maintain the elder’s physical or mental health.

     Under the Kansas law an elder person is defined as an individual seventy years old or older. Other states use different ages, with the majority of states defining elder as sixty. Under Kansas law, if an elder person is a victim of physical abuse, the abuser would be charged under the Kansas battery statute. Only if the person is also a dependent adult — — is the abuser charged under Kansas’ elder statute.

     “Percentage-wise, the fastest growing increase in crimes against seniors is financial exploitation, whether it be ‘stranger fraud’ or family members or friends taking advantage of a someone who’s come to trust them,” said Mitzi McFatrich, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, a group that represents the interests of nursing home residents and their families.

      The growth in this area is probably why the penalties for this kind of abuse are relatively harsh under the 2014 law. Previously, all violations of the Kansas Power of Attorney Act had to be dealt with by filing a civil lawsuit. For the first time in Kansas, this new statute criminalizes violations of the Kansas Power of Attorney Act.

     For example, if you have given your neighbor Power of Attorney over you, and that neighbor violates their fiduciary duty and steals money from your bank account under the guise of being your agent, that neighbor can now be charged criminally for a breach of his or her fiduciary duty to you, in addition to the theft.

Reporting and filing charges

     Tragically, elder abuse is often a crime that goes unprosecuted because the victim is reluctant to press charges against a son or daughter, niece, nephew, grandkids, etc. The problem is further complicated because many seniors are homebound so others are unaware there may be issues.

     While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some tell-tale signs that there could be a problem are:

     •Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.

     •Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.

     •Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.

     •Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.

      •Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.

      •Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.

      •Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.

      Kansas Department for Children and Families investigates abuse and neglect of individuals in the community. Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services oversees investigations involving long-term care facilities.

      Report abuse by calling the Kansas Protection Reporter Center at 800-922-5330, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ¦

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