Parroting Elder Abuse

A parrot’s mimicking of an anguished “Help Me! Help Me” followed by cruel laughter may be evidence of another horrible case of elder abuse.  As reported in the ABA Journal, the police believe that the bird is revealing the drama that occurred between a 98-year-old woman and her daughter.

As the elder population grows dramatically, with life expectancies increasing and life-prolonging medical procedures coming into widespread use, the instances of elder abuse is tragically also experiencing record growth. Elders are among the most vulnerable members of our community and are particularly susceptible to abuse.

Elder abuse occurs when an elderly person is mistreated physically or psychologically, exploited financially, or neglected. The perpetrators may include long-term care providers, the elder’s own family members or friends, financial management surrogates, and other persons or entities that provide services to the elderly. The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study (.pdf) conducted by the National Center on Elder Abuse estimated that nearly 450,000 persons aged 60 or over and living in domestic (noninstitutionalized) situations were abused or neglected in the United States in 1996. The study also concluded that:

  • Female elders are abused more often than males;
  • Elders 80 years and over are the most likely elders to be abused and neglected; and
  • In nearly 90 percent of the incidents of elder abuse and neglect where the abuser is known, the abuser is a family member; 47 percent of the abusers are adult children and 19 percent are spouses.

Often, an abusive adult child or grandchild has a drug or alcohol problem, mental impairment, or other personal problem, and may be dependent on the elder for housing or financial assistance. Typically, he or she becomes verbally abusive and intimidating toward the elder, demands money, and may become physically abusive. Financial difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse, and caretaker stress and resentment have been cited as factors contributing to elder abuse. See Welf & I C §15600(e) (statement of legislative recognition of factors contributing to elder abuse).

The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act was intended by the legislature “to enable interested persons to engage attorneys to take up the cause of abused elderly persons and dependent adults.” Welf & I C §15600. It provides for enhanced or additional remedies for causes of action that involve physical abuse or neglect, abduction, or financial abuse of elders. See Welf & I C §§15657-15657.5. In addition to compensatory damages and all other remedies provided by law, the remedies include, under certain conditions, postmortem recovery for pain and suffering and mandatory attorney fees and costs.  See Welf & I C §§15657(a)-(c), 15657.5.

To stop the abuse and ensure the ongoing safety and protection of the elder, an immediate separation of the parties is often necessary, together with means for keeping the abuser away from the elder. Protective orders, including restraining orders enjoining specified conduct, residence exclusions (“move-out” orders), and stay-away orders, can help secure the needed separation and prevent a recurrence of abuse.

In the mother-daughter situation with the parrot, it was sadly too late to help the abused woman, but this story can serve as a reminder to be aware of possible elder abuse and take action when you see it’s occurring.

For information on elder abuse issues, including related actions, go to CEB’s California Elder Law Litigation: An Advocate’s Guide.  On elder law generally, check out our California Elder Law Resources, Benefits, and Planning: An Advocate’s Guide.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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