Last month I discussed issues involving special needs children. Many Tennesseans are now also dealing with elderly parents. As the baby boomers age, we now have a much larger elderly population than ever before and therefore many more instances of elder abuse. The State of Tennessee has responded with legislation protecting the elderly (Tennessee Code Annotated § 71-6-101, et seq.). The Act requires medical professionals, nursing homes and even caregivers to report elder abuse.
Some studies suggest that only one in twenty three cases of elder abuse is reported. Many times this is because the caregiver controls the elder’s access to the outside world, family members, finances and medication. Physical signs often go unnoticed and behavioral signs are not seen, so the abuse continues.
What is elder abuse?
It can come in many forms: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, active neglect, passive neglect and financial exploitation. Most of these types of neglect are self explanatory, however passive neglect can result from an elderly spouse attempting to care for his/her spouse and being unable to do so due to lack of knowledge, infirmity or inability to care for the spouse. This type of lack of care is often unrealized until it is too late.
If a family member or friend notices any signs of abuse they should immediately contact the authorities, including the Department of Human Services, Adult protective Services. Adult Protective Services case workers are trained to determine if abuse appears to be present and then take action to protect the elder. In addition a family member or friend can file a petition with the court to have a conservator appointed to take care of the elder’s financial and physical needs.
Appointing a Conservator
Petitions to have a conservator appointed for an elderly person often result from a family member or friend witnessing abuse of the elderly person by a caregiver. Sometimes the abuse is financial abuse resulting from someone convincing an elderly person to provide them a general power of attorney, which is used to obtain the elderly person assets. Sometimes the abuse is by medical professionals and even nursing homes.
If a person feels a conservator is needed for an elder person. The petitioner (the person asking the court for help) will file a petition with the court asking a conservator be appointed for the elder person. The petition can be for control of the person’s finances and/or person. This means the court will determine whether the person needs help just with their finances (they are able to make decisions about their medical care) or their medical care or both. The court will appoint a guardian ad litem to advice the court whether the elder person needs a conservator. The Court can also order a medical examination to determine if a conservator is needed. It is recommended that if you believe a conservatorship needs to be set up for an elder person you should contact and attorney who is experienced with conservatorship law.
It is up to all of us to protect our elders. If you suspect elder abuse contact the appropriate authorities.
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