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Federal, State, and Local Action

Federal legislation protecting elderly people, such as the Older Americans Act of 1975, do not address specific issues related to elder abuse. (The Older Americans Act was amended in 1987 to include definitions of abuse, but those definitions are meant to serve primarily as a guideline.) Elder abuse is handled primarily by state laws, and each state has different regulations. All agree, however, that obvious abuse of an elderly person demands quick action, and all 50 states have some method of reporting abuse.

Usually it is the local or state APS agencies that handle reports of elder abuse. In some communities, the responsibility falls to other government agencies, such as a county social services department. Usually the state’s human services agency has responsibility for programs for the aging. Many states have a toll-free 24-hour hotline number for those who wish to report instances of abuse.

The Administration on Aging works closely with state and local agencies to provide support, to help train APS workers to recognize and work with elder abuse, and to develop informational materials such as posters, videos, and public service announcements. It also helps state agencies coordinate their efforts as a means of streamlining their work. It also funds the National Center on Elder Abuse, which serves as a clearinghouse for public and private agencies, as well as individuals, who are seeking information on elder abuse and its prevention. The Center’s web site (http://www.elderabusecenter.org) includes a listing of toll-free telephone numbers for each state, as well as access to a variety of information on abuse.

Typically, a report of elder abuse is followed up by someone from an APS agency, which will investigate the charge. If the report turns out to be accurate, the agency will work with other community groups to ensure the safety of the victim. If a victim is competent and refuses to be helped, the APS can do nothing. But if the victim asks for help, or if the victim has been declared incapacitated by a court and a guardian has been appointed, the APS can initiate action. Other advocacy groups such as AARP offer guidelines and advice to elderly people who may fall prey to abuse.

Inside Federal, State, and Local Action