Elder Abuse/Neglect

Definitions of Elder Abuse

(Definitions of abuse on this page are adapted from the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services Elder Abuse Information site at External link)

Four categories of elder abuse are defined in Wisconsin law, Chapter 46.90. When a person age 60 or older is subjected to any of these types of abuse or neglect, it is elder abuse.

1. Abuse:

As defined by Wis. Stat. 46.90 (1) (a), means any of the following:

Physical Abuse:

Intentional or reckless infliction of physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.

Special Considerations on Physical Abuse

Physical abuse may take the form of partner abuse but may also be perpetrated by friends, caregivers and other family members. Often emotional and/or financial dependence plays a role in this cycle of violence. If you witness any form of violence, an emergency call to police should occur immediately. The police may notify the Elder Abuse Unit when there have been reports of physical abuse toward elders. Any witness or concerned individual should contact the Elder Abuse Unit because the victim commonly requires support as they may be stuck in a situation where they do not have knowledge of the resources nor the power to end the violence.

Emotional Abuse:

Language or behavior that serves no legitimate purpose and is intended to be intimidating, humiliating, threatening, frightening, or otherwise harassing, and that does or reasonably could intimidate, humiliate, threaten, or otherwise harass the individual to whom the conduct or language is directed.

Sexual Abuse:

A violation of criminal assault law, s. 940.225 (1), (2), (3), or (3m).

Treatment without consent:

The administration of medication to an individual who has not provided informed consent, or the performance of psychosurgery, electro-convulsive therapy, or experimental research on an individual who has not provided informed consent, with the knowledge that no lawful authority exists for the administration or performance.

Unreasonable confinement or restraint:

The intentional and unreasonable confinement of an individual in a locked room, involuntary separation of an individual from his or her living area, use on an individual of physical restraining devices, or the provision of unnecessary or excessive medications to an individual, but does not include use of these methods or devices employed in conformance with state and federal standards governing confinement and restraint.

2. Financial Exploitation:

As defined in Wis. Stat. 46.90 (1) (ed), means any of the following:

  1. Obtaining an individual's money or property by deceiving or enticing the individual, or by forcing, compelling, or coercing the individual to give, sell at less than fair market value, or in other ways convey money or property against his or her will without his or her informed consent.
  2. Theft, as prohibited in s. 943.20.
  3. The substantial failure or neglect of a fiscal agent to fulfill his or her responsibilities.
  4. Unauthorized use of an individual's personal identifying information or documents, as prohibited in s. 943.201.
  5. Unauthorized use of an entity's identifying information or documents as prohibited in s. 943.203.
  6. Forgery, as prohibited in s. 943.38.
  7. Financial transaction card crimes, as prohibited in s. 943.41.

Special Considerations on Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is a serious and delicate issue. Usually this crime is perpetrated by a family member or trusted friend. Quite often the victim would like the compensation for the crime but due to loyalty they do not want to see the perpetrator charged in a court of law. Additionally, the victim may not wish to lose their relationship with the perpetrator because that person may fulfill other important roles in the older adult's life (i.e., caregiver, social support, only family member, etc.) An Elder Abuse Investigator will work with the victim to help them understand the dynamics of the situation. The goal is to empower the victim to protect assets while reducing the risk of future abuse.

3. Neglect:

As defined in Wis. Stat. 46.90 (1)(f), means the failure of a caregiver, as evidenced by an act, omission, or course of conduct, to endeavor to secure or maintain adequate care, services, or supervision for an individual, including food, clothing, shelter, or physical or mental health care, and creating significant risk or danger to the individual's physical or mental health. “Neglect” does not include a decision that is made to not seek medical care for an individual, if that decision is consistent with the individual's previously executed declaration or do-not-resuscitate order under Chapter 154, a power of attorney for health care under Chapter 155, or as otherwise authorized by law.

Special Considerations on Neglect

Neglect cases are often complex and are not likely to be resolved without professional intervention. Some neglect cases involve caregivers that are trying to meet both the needs and preferences of the older adult, however, these needs and preferences are conflicting and/or the resources to meet these demands are not present. Other neglect cases involve caregivers that, for a variety of reasons, cannot or will not provide the level of care necessary for the older adult. The challenge for the potential reporter of these cases is that often the caregiver is a family member or friend and feelings of loyalty or fear of retaliation interfere with reporting. If neglect is suspected you are encouraged to report the case to the Elder Abuse Unit for investigation. Anyone who reports in good faith can have his or her identity held in confidence.

4. Self-Neglect:

As defined in Wis. Stat. 46.90 (1)(g), means a significant danger to an individual's physical or mental health because the individual is responsible for his or her own care but fails to obtain adequate care, including food, shelter, clothing, or medical or dental care.

Special Considerations on Self-Neglect

Self-neglect cases often arise when an individual's ability to care for themselves in their home environment is compromised by disease, illness or injury. In these cases there is often a conflict between an individual's desire for autonomy versus the need for assistance. This is a challenging situation for individuals, families, and friends. When these situations persist, it is advisable to seek professional outside assistance. When self-neglect exists or is suspected, an Elder Abuse Investigator will assist in seeking a resolution that provides for the older adult's well-being in the least restrictive manner.