Dependent adults are anyone over age 18 whose physical and/or mental condition makes them dependent on others for care or protection. Dependent adults are at risk for abuse and federal and state laws and regulations have been promulgated to help protect against dependent adult abuse.
Federal law (Older Americans Act of 1965) defines elder abuse as the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an individual age 60 or older. Until recently Iowa did not have a specific elder abuse law, but after the state’s Elder Abuse Task Force recommended in 2012 and 2013 that Iowa pass specific elder abuse legislation a bill was passed by the Iowa Legislature and went into effect on July 1, 2014.
The law expands protections in Iowa against abuse to a “vulnerable elder”—“a person sixty years of age or older who is unable to protect himself or herself from elder abuse as a result of age or a mental or physical condition.” The law adds to protections already in place for dependent adults against caretakers. Other protections are available under the domestic abuse law and criminal law (Iowa Legal Aid, 2014).
Illness, age, and disability render people vulnerable to abuse by those on whom they depend for care and protection. Abuse is an age-old crime that takes many forms: physical, psychological, sexual, and financial. It is a hidden form of mistreatment, occurring in private homes, adult daycare, and long-term care institutions. Adult abuse is far less likely to be reported than child abuse because of lack of public awareness. Abuse is “an intergenerational concern, as well as a health, justice, and human rights issue” (Lowenstein, 2009).
In Iowa, dependent adult abuse that occurs in the community is reported to the Department of Human Services (DHS). Dependent adult abuse that occurs in facilities and programs is reported to the Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA). Each reporting process will be discussed later in the course. In addition, the Department on Aging provides advocacy, information, and training.
Note: The DHS also investigates reports of abuse in facilities and programs when the perpetrator is not an employee or staff member.