Is Elder Abuse A Felony? What Are The Consequences?

Written By: William Rivers
Reviewed By: William Rivers
Published: January 18, 2023
Last updated: March 30, 2023

The elderly are a vulnerable population who deserve our protection and respect. Sadly, elderly abuse is still an ongoing problem, with reports of the elderly suffering physical, emotional, or financial harm increasing yearly. 

In the United States, it is estimated that only 1 in 23 cases of elder abuse are reported to authorities, although it happens in 1 out of 10 seniors. Elder abuse is hard to identify due to the deteriorating cognitive functions of seniors. However, this behavior is unacceptable and needs to be punished accordingly. 

Is elder abuse a felony? Let's take a closer look. 

Is Elder Abuse A Felony?: An Overview

Is Elder Abuse Felony?

Elder abuse is defined as any physical, emotional, or financial harm inflicted on an individual aged 65 or older. It is a felony in many states and is punishable by fines, jail time, or both. 

Additionally, this abuse is a form of domestic violence covered under the same laws, often perpetrated by family members, caregivers, or other people in positions of trust.

In some cases, elder abuse happens in nursing homes where families trust their loved ones to receive the best care. 

In some states, elder abuse is a felony regardless of the severity of the abuse. While in other states, elder abuse is only a felony if the abuse is severe or if the abuser has a history of abusing the elderly. Otherwise, they are treated as misdemeanors. 

Elder abuse can have devastating physical and psychological consequences for the elderly victim. Knowing the initial symptoms is crucial in determining if abuse is happening and taking preliminary steps to address it. 

Common Crimes Against The Elderly

Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse. The Department of Justice has a comprehensive list of common crimes against older adults and their penalties.

  • Abuse. There are several types of abuse, like physical and emotional abuse. Physical abuse happens when there's bodily harm to the senior and also involves restraining them against their will. Emotional or psychological abuse happens when hurtful words are said to the elderly and include instances of yelling, threatening, and repeatedly ignoring them. 
  • Assault. This crime involves putting a senior's life in danger by intentionally inflicting bodily harm. 
  • Extreme Neglect. This happens when an elderly person's needs, like food, medication, and health care, are repeatedly ignored, worsening physical, mental, and emotional conditions. 
  • Sexual Assault. This involves forcing the senior to be part of or to watch sexual acts against their will. 
  • Financial Exploitation Or Embezzlement. This happens when a trusted person, like a caregiver or family member, exploits an elderly person, so they give up their money and financial resources. It can include forging checks and using their bank or credit cards for unauthorized purposes. This can also involve coercion, harassment, and misrepresentations.
  • Theft Or Robbery. This is outright robbing the senior person of their resources by taking their belongings, changing their bank account names, getting their insurance policy or property titles, and other similar acts without the older adult's knowledge and permission. 
  • Fraud. This happens when an elderly individual's identity is used to commit fraudulent acts without their knowledge. It also involves tricking them into participating in criminal activities they wouldn't otherwise do. The elderly are also frequent targets for scams like lottery, charitable, and mortgage scams. 

Factors That Affect Penalties For Elder Abuse

Factors That Affect Penalties For Elder Abuse

Penalties vary depending on the severity of elder abuse, with more sinister or harmful cases generally receiving harsher sentences. Other factors, such as the abuser's past criminal history and relationships with the elderly, also come into play when it comes to punishments. Often, if an elder's caretaker is found to have abused them, their actions are viewed as despicable and inexcusable, leading to more severe punishments than other cases of elder abuse might receive.

  • Crime Severity: Sexual abuse carries a harsher penalty than theft. Crimes that create bodily harm are punished more severely than property crimes. 
  • Victim Harm: The gravity of the harm inflicted upon the elderly plays a factor in the penalties. Physical abuse that results in a broken arm will be considered a felony, while one that results in bruises might be considered a misdemeanor. Property crimes are judged by the amount of money involved and the position of trust held by the perpetrator.
  • Past Convictions: If the perpetrator has been convicted of a misdemeanor before or has repeatedly served jail time, they will face harsher penalties. 

Penalties for elder abuse include fines, incarceration, and restitution, depending on the factors outlined above. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Still wondering, “Is elder abuse a felony”? Here are other commonly asked questions surrounding it:

What is the highest form of elder abuse?

Elder abuse can take many forms — from physical and psychological to financial and even neglect. Unfortunately, the highest form of elder abuse is abandonment, when vulnerable seniors are left alone in an unfamiliar place, unable or unwilling to care for themselves. 

While this type of elder abuse is not always easy to spot, doing nothing only allows it to continue. Everyone must protect the elderly from potential peril, and we should all work together to ensure that no elderly person is ever forgotten or abandoned.

How is elder abuse diagnosed?

Elder abuse can be difficult to discuss, and it often goes undiagnosed. However, elder abuse has several signs and symptoms that should not be overlooked. In particular, seniors may experience physical injuries like bruising, fractures, or sprains. 

Changes in behavior may also point to elder abuse, such as sudden changes in sleeping or eating habits, withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy participating in, poor hygiene or neglect of their personal appearance, fear of certain people, or social isolation. 

Healthcare professionals must ask elderly adults detailed questions about any suspicious behavior they have observed. Documenting any observed elder abuse is essential in ensuring the elderly adult receives proper medical attention.

What is the penalty for elder abuse in California?

In California, the penalty for elder abuse ranges from fines to jail time, depending on the severity of the crime. Any elderly person who finds themselves mistreated should contact the police immediately so that legal action can be taken against their abuser and justice can be served.

Report Abuse And Protect Your Senior Loved Ones Today

Elder abuse is, unfortunately, a prevalent issue in this world, and those responsible for these abuses can expect to face legal consequences. While it is difficult to diagnose, being attentive and caring for your elderly loved one will help you spot the symptoms early on. Don't hesitate to report a crime when it happens to protect your loved one from lasting consequences.

That answers the question, “Is elder abuse a felony?” If you need legal representation, check out our article on legal services for seniors.

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William Rivers is an editor with a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling at Maine State University. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the senior healthcare industry.
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