The National Center of Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as “any knowing, intended or careless act that causes harm or serious risk of harm to an older person – physically, mentally, emotionally or financially.” A National Institute of Justice study showed that nearly 11% of Americans 60 years of age and older faced some type of elder abuse in the past 12 months. Often, the victims are abused by family or others close to them either in home settings or in care facilities. The Elder Justice Act was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It provides federal resources to “prevent, detect, treat, understand, intervene in and, where appropriate, prosecute elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.”
Requirements of Department of Health & Human Services in the Elder Justice Act
The act requires that the Department of Health and Human Services oversee the development and management of federal resources for protecting our seniors from elder abuse. In part, the act requires the following:
- Establishment of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council
- Establishment of an Advisory Board on Elder Abuse
- Establishment of Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation Forensic Centers
- Enhancement of Long-Term Care
- Funding to state and local adult protective service offices
- Grants for long-term care ombudsmen programs and for evaluation of programs
- Programs to provide training
- Grants to state agencies to perform surveys of care and nursing facilities.
These efforts focus on education, research, leadership and guidance in establishing programs to stop elder abuse. Additionally, the Elder Justice Acts directs the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) toward actions to prevent elder abuse.
Requirements of the Department of Justice in the Elder Justice Act
The prosecution of abusers has been a challenge. As part of the Elder Justice Act, the Department of Justice is tasked with dedicating resources, studying and evaluating existing laws, and providing grants to local and state agencies. Their directives include:
- Develop objectives, priorities, policies and long-term plans for elder justice programs
- Conduct a study of state laws and practices relating to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation
- Make available grants to develop training and support programs for law enforcement and other first responders, prosecutors, judges, court personnel and victim advocates
- Ensure that DOJ dedicates sufficient resources to the investigation and prosecution of cases relating to elder justice
Studies have shown that victims of financial exploitation, elder abuse or neglect have been found to have three times the risk of dying prematurely. Reported incidents of abuse in care facilities, both long term and daycare, have skyrocketed in the past decade. The Elder Justice Act creates a nationwide database and program for background checks for the employees of care facilities. The act also requires that any elder abuse perpetrated in a long-term care facility be reported immediately to law enforcement.
Combating Financial Crimes of Elder Abuse
Seniors are often vulnerable to local, national and even international scams that target their investments, homes, money and other assets. The aging population needs education on what to verify before providing anyone with access to their accounts for any reason. Under The Elder Justice Act, grants are available to state and community agencies to create and promote awareness programs that focus on scams, online fraud and abuse.
Before the Elder Justice Act was enacted, federal funding for programs and justice regulations was not available. Now, community education, awareness campaigns, training for law enforcement personnel, and Adult Protective Services are available to millions of seniors across the U.S. While much research, training, education and implementation of programs still needs to take place, the Elder Justice Act is the first step toward creating a better, safer world for our senior community.
For more information please visit USC’s online masters of gerontology programs.
 The Elder Justice Coalition. Retrieved July 22, 2012 from: http://www.elderjusticecoalition.com
 BIFOCAL, Stiegel, Lori A., March-April 2010. Vol. 31, No. 4. “Elder Abuse Prevention: Elder Justice Act Becomes Law, But Victory Is Only Partial”. Retrieved July 22, 2012 from: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/aging/PublicDocuments/eja_act_art_prtl.authcheckdam.pdf
[3,4] American Psychological Association. The Elder Justice Act (S.1070/H.R. 1783). Retrieved July 22, 2012 from: http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/aging/elder-justice-facts.aspx
population age 65 and older increased by 188 percent, and the population 85 and older increased by 635 percent (Eberhardt et al., 2001, Hetzel and Smith, 2001). Over this same period, the life expectancy of people at age 65 increased from 13.9 to 17.9 years (Natonal Center for Health Statistics, unpublished data, 2001). These trends will likely be accentuated by the aging of the post-WWII baby boom generation. The U.S. Bureau of the Census predicts that by 2030, the population over age 65 will nearly triple to more than 70 million people, and older people will make up more than 20 percent of the population (up from 12.3 percent in 1990) (Population Projections Program, 2000).
It is heartening that large proportions of the nation’s older people are living without substantial disability. Among people age 75 and older in 1999, 70 percent described their health as good or excellent (Eberhardt et al., 2001). Inevitably, however, the aging of the population is also associated with increases in age-related diseases and disabilities. Of the estimated 12.8 million Americans reporting need for assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs—eating, dressing, bathing, transferring between the bed and a chair, toileting, controlling bladder and bowel) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs—preparing meals, performing housework, taking drugs, going on errands, managing finances, using a telephone), 57 percent (7.3 million people) were over the age of 65 (Administration on Aging, 1997). Dementia is present in approximately 5 to 10 percent of persons age 65 and older and 30 to 39 percent of persons age 85 and older (Rice et al., 2001; Henderson, 1998). Among people age 85 and older in 1999, 33 percent reported themselves to be in fair or poor health, 84 percent had disabilities involving mobility (unpublished data Natonal Center for Health Statistics, 2002), and 16 percent had Alzheimer’s disease (Brookmeyer et al., 1998).
Given the projected growth in the elderly population, long-term care for elderly people with disabilities has become an increasingly urgent policy concern (Institute of Medicine, 2001; Stone, 2000). The settings in which long-term care is provided depend on a variety of factors, including the older person’s needs and preferences, the availability of informal support, and the source of reimbursement for care. An increasing number of elderly people reside outside traditional home settings in highly restrictive institutional environments (such as skilled or intermediate nursing facilities) or in less restrictive community-based residential settings, such as assisted living facilities, board and care homes, and adult foster homes. Among the 34 million persons over age 65 in 1995, 5 percent were nursing home residents, and 12 percent lived in the community setting with ADL or IADL limitations. The number of nursing home residents increased between 1973–1974 and 1999 from 961,500 to 1,469,500 among those age 65 and older, and from 413,6000 to 757,100 among those 85 and older (Eberhardt et al., 2001). In 1999, another 500,000 elderly people were living in