MONTGOMERY – Each year, an estimated 5 million older Americans are abused, neglected and exploited. But that’s only part of this hidden crime – experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect that is reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported. In Alabama, the numbers are no less disturbing. It is estimated that as many as 75,000 elder abuse cases occur in Alabama each year and, similar to national statistics, many of these cases are never reported.
Elder abuse can occur anywhere. It affects elders across all socio-economic groups, cultures, and races. The abusers may be spouses, family members, personal acquaintances, or professionals in positions of trust, or opportunistic strangers who prey on vulnerable adults.
Protecting the elderly from abuse is a top priority for Governor Bentley. In 2013, under his leadership, a law was passed by the Alabama State Legislature which greatly improved the rights of older Alabamians to be protected and free from abuse, neglect and exploitation. The Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act, which was sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood) and Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), clearly defines abuse of the elderly and increases the penalty on those who commit this heinous crime. This new criminal law, which applies to victims who are 60-years of age or older, is one of the strongest elder abuse laws in the nation. It not only creates additional criminal penalties specifically for elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation but provides law enforcement and prosecutors with additional avenues in which to prosecute these areas of abuse.
Elder abuse can now be prosecuted in the first degree, second degree, or third degree depending on the severity of harm to the victim. Penalties range from a Class A misdemeanor for elder abuse and neglect in the third degree, to a Class A felony for intentional abuse or neglect in the first degree which causes serious physical injury. A Class A felony carries a sentence of ten (10) years to life in Alabama.
Elder abuse awareness must go beyond the prosecutor’s office. Public awareness is an important part in fighting elder abuse. Each year in June, communities and organizations around the world plan activities and programs, both small and large, in an effort to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable elders. In Alabama, Governor Bentley issued a proclamation declaring June 15, 2014 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Alabama Interagency Council for the Prevention of Elder Abuse recently held its 6th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Public Rally on the Alabama State Capitol steps to increase public awareness on elder abuse. The Council is also hosting a series of Town Hall meetings across the State to bring much-needed attention to this growing crisis.
The Elder Abuse Protection Toolkit was developed by the Council to assist elders, their caregivers and all concerned Alabamians in knowing how to recognize and report cases of elder abuse. The toolkit includes excellent information necessary for Alabama’s elders and caregivers to not only protect elders from abuse, neglect and exploitation, but also teaches them how to “recognize” and “report” elder abuse crimes. The toolkit provides a list of questions that elders can ask themselves; a financial scam quiz, which they can complete; and lists the four primary methods used by scam operators to target elders.
Abuse is a painful reality for thousands of Alabama’s elderly and disabled adults. We all have a role to play in ending the abuse. If you suspect elder abuse, don’t hesitate to act. Call the Alabama Department of Human Resources Adult Protective Services Division at 1-800-458-7214 or call your local law enforcement.
To receive a free copy of the Elder Abuse Protection Toolkit, contact the Alabama Department of Senior Services (ADSS) at 1-877-425-2243 or email