Elder abuse isn’t something any of us like to think or talk about. Unfortunately, it does happen. It happens more than most of us know. Abuse doesn’t have to be physical; it can also be financial, verbal, or can even be in the form of neglect.

What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse? Elder abuse, like other types of domestic violence, is extremely complex. Generally, a combination of psychological, social and economic factors, along with the mental and physical conditions of the victim and the perpetrator, contribute to the occurrence of elder maltreatment. Although the factors listed cannot explain all types of elder maltreatment, because it is likely that each single incident may involve different factors, they are some of the risk factors researchers say seem to be related to elder abuse.

With the downturn of the economy, financial abuse among those age 70 and older has become more prevalent. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, more than two million cases are reported annually nationwide. The median age of the victim is 78 years old.

The good news is the State of Kansas has taken this very seriously. Prior to 2014, elder abuse statutes were not well defined, and penalties didn’t seem to fit the crimes. Fortunately, in the state of Kansas, a law was passed giving elderly residents a new protection against fraud and financial abuse.

The law is aimed at protecting people 70 and older who are victims of financial abuse. Before July 1, 2014, elder abuse wasn’t clearly defined, and the penalties were lacking. Now, people convicted of large-scale abuse could be sentenced to more than 40 years in prison. The law adds protections against misusing a financial trust or power of attorney for the purpose of misappropriating a person’s life savings. The measure was sponsored by Senate Vice President Jeff King of Independence and Sen. Michael O’Donnell, both Republicans. King and O’Donnell say it gives law enforcement another tool to protect older residents.

If you suspect abuse, you should report it. First, if you believe someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for immediate help. Adult Protective Services (APS) is the common name of the social services program that receives and looks into reported suspicions about abuse or neglect of people living in the community. If you suspect abuse or neglect of someone living in the community, contact the local APS reporting hotline at 1-800-922-5330. For more information on this and other resources, please call the Butler County Department on Aging at 775-0500.