In Colorado, more than 4,000 incidents of adult abuse, exploitation or neglect are reported each year to local county departments of social services and long-term care ombudsmen. Many more go unreported. The victims are at-risk adults age 18 or over who due to age or disability are unable to protect themselves and have no one to protect them. Over 70% are over 60 and are physically impaired or have some form of dementia. The younger victims are persons with physical or developmental disabilities. For many, the abuse, exploitation or neglect is caused by a caregiver or a member of their own family. Often the victim is totally dependent upon the abuser, and is afraid to complain for fear of reprisal.
Signs that may indicate abuse, exploitation or neglect are occurring:
- Frequent injuries such as bruises, burns, broken bones, especially when the explanation for the cause of the injury does not seem plausible
- Over medication/sedation
- Multiple bruises in various stages of healing, particularly bruises on inner arms or thighs
- Victim appears frightened or withdrawn
- Victim has been locked in a room or tied up
- Sudden dramatic change in victim’s behavior: appears withdrawn, depressed
- Caretaker won’t let victim speak for him/herself
- Caretaker scolds, insults and/or threatens victims
- Evidence of sexually transmitted disease
- Irritation or injuries to mouth, genitals or anus
- Victim acts upset when changed or bathed
- Victim appears fearful when with a particular person
- Filthy living environment
- Lack of medical attention
- Lack of dentures, hearing aids, glasses
- Malnutrition, dehydration
- Clothing is inadequate for the climate
- Poor hygiene
- Unusual activity in bank account; sudden large withdrawals; expenditures that are not consistent with victim’s past financial history
- Use of Automated Teller Machines by person with no history of using ATMs or who cannot access one due to a disability
- Signing over rights on legal papers without understanding what the papers mean
- Eviction for nonpayment of rent; house in foreclosure; utilities shut off, lack of food, clothing or personal supplies
- Title to home signed over in exchange for promise of “life-long care”
Information courtesy of the Colorado Coalition for Elder Rights and Adult Protection
Reporting Elder Abuse in Colorado
As of July 1, 2014, Colorado law mandates reporting of suspected elder abuse to the appropriate county sheriff or city police department if the individual is over 70 years of age (or over 18 and disabled). This report must be made “within 24 hours after making the observation or discovery.” Mandatory reporters are: physicians (including trainee residents or interns); osteopathic professionals; podiatrists; chiropractors; medical examiners/coroners; physician assistants; nurses (LPN, RN, or nurse practitioner); therapists (occupational, speech or physical); emergency medical service providers; hospital or long-term care facility personnel engaged in admission, care or treatment of patients; psychologists and other mental health professionals; social worker practitioner; community center board staff; bank, savings, and loan association, credit unions and other lending or financial institutions; caregiver, staff member or employee, volunteer, consultant or licensed or certified care facility, agency, home or governing board including but not limited to home health; fire protection personnel (paramedics, EMT, volunteers); clergy; dentists; law enforcement officials and personnel; court-appointed guardian and conservator; and pharmacists. A person who reports an incident of abuse or exploitation to a law enforcement agency is immune from a civil action or criminal prosecution if the report is made in good faith, however a person who knowingly makes a false report can be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor.
If the suspected victim of elder abuse is under the age or 70 or is not disabled, a report may be made to the county department of social services Adult Protective Services team. If the suspected victim is a resident of a long-term care facility (assisted living or nursing home), a report may also be filed with the local long-term care ombudsman.
More information is available online from the Colorado Department of Human Services, including an online training for mandatory reporters. The federal Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative has resources for victims, advocates, prosecutors, and practitioners on how to address elder abuse. For professionals, the Colorado Coalition for Elder Rights and Abuse Prevention offers several online trainings and regular events focusing on elder abuse issues, many of which qualify for continuing education credits.