The 2010 U.S. Census reported the highest number in decennial census history for the 65 and older portion of the population. Coming in at a record high 40,267,984 or 13% of the U.S. population, the baby boomers are making their mark on history. In 2011, Alabama alone had a reported 672,586 individuals aged 65 and older, 14% of Alabama’s population.
With the aging of a generation that marked a spot in U.S. history for population growth, the baby boomers, the issue of elder abuse has also been a growing concern over the past decade. While the statistics vary, The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates between 2 to 5 million elderly Americans experience some type of elder abuse annually. One additional statistic that sums up the impact of elder abuse is that victims of elder abuse experienced a 300% greater risk of death.
So what is being done to protect against such abuse in Alabama? Elder abuse has become such an problem over recent years that every state in the U.S. has now enacted elder abuse prevention laws. It is a crime in Alabama to perpetrate abuse, neglect or exploitation against a protected person or elderly individual. These abuse crimes are set out in two (2) acts in the Alabama Code. The first act, the Adult Protective Services Act of 1976, addresses abuse of a protected person. The second act, recently passed in 2013 and dubbed the Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act (“Elders Act”), addresses the distinct crime of elder abuse.
Under the APS Act, abuse, neglect or exploitation of a protected individual will result in a Class A misdemeanor, Class B felony or Class C felony. The Elders Act did not change or cancel the penalties already present in the APS Act of 1976. Instead, the Elders Act addressed a different class of persons to be protected under the Act and added to the criminal penalties.
The APS Act addresses persons of a protected class. These protected persons include adults who are disabled and impaired. The new Elders Act protects any individual age 60 or older, even if mental competency is still intact. This was to address the issue that elder abuse can happen to anyone in the protected age range, not just those who are declared mentally impaired.
The Elders Act also added to the criminal penalties. Just like the APS Act, the various crimes under the Elders Act may result in a Class A misdemeanor, Class B felony or Class C felony. However, the Elders Act also adds a Class A felony for intentional abuse or neglect which causes serious physical injury. A Class A felony in Alabama is punishable by a sentence of “life or not more than 99 years or less than 10 years.” Further, if a firearm or deadly weapon was used or attempted to be used in committing the abuse, the sentence will not be less than 20 years.
Unfortunately, as we age, we become more vulnerable to all types of abuse. With the current statistics, it is likely that each of us knows someone experiencing such abuse. The Elders Act and several other state and federally funded programs, such as the Long Term Care Ombudsman, are in place to help protect against this abuse of our aging population here in Alabama. To find out more about this topic, including the risks and warning signs, you can access my full legal paper on Adult Protection through our website.