Senior/Adult Abuse

photo of older adult and advocateAdult Protective Services

California law encourages all citizens to report suspected abuse of seniors or dependent adults. California law also mandates that certain professionals report suspected abuse, whether it is abuse by another person or self-neglect. Adult Protective Services (APS) is the official program in San Mateo County designated to receive and investigate these reports. APS Case managers investigate situations where seniors or vulnerable adults have been subjected to, or are at risk of, abuse, neglect or exploitation. APS case managers ensure the safety of the person at risk and work with the individual to develop an appropriate care plan. Where there is a concern that the person is unable to manage his or her own affairs safely, an investigation into the need for a conservatorship may be conducted.

What is elder and dependent adult abuse?

  • Physical Abuse includes slapping, hitting, bruising, beating or any other intentional act that causes someone physical pain, injury or suffering. Physical abuse also includes excessive forms of restraint used to confine someone against their will (i.e., tying, chaining or locking someone in a room).
  • Emotional Abuse is threatening, intimidating or humiliating an individual and causing them emotional pain, distress or anguish. Emotional abuse can be verbal or non-verbal; it includes insults, yelling and threats of harm or isolation.
  • Sexual Abuse is any sexual activity to which the older or dependent adult does not consent or is incapable of consenting. Non-consensual sexual activity includes everything from exhibitionism to sexual intercourse.
  • Financial Abuse is when someone misuses, mishandles or exploits the elderly or dependent adult's property, possessions or financial assets. This includes using those assets without the individual's consent or manipulating the older or dependent adult for the financial benefit or material gain of another.
  • Neglect takes place when, intentionally or unintentionally, a caregiver fails to support the physical, emotional and social needs of the older or dependent adult. Neglect can include denying food or medication, health services or contact with friends and family. Neglect is the most common form of elder mistreatment in domestic settings.
  • Isolation means any of the following:

    • Acts intentionally committed for the purpose of preventing, and that do serve to prevent, an elder or dependent adult from receiving his or her mail or telephone calls.
    • Telling a caller or prospective visitor that an elder or dependent adult is not present, or does not wish to talk with the caller, or does not wish to meet with the visitor where the statement is false, is contrary to the express wishes of the elder or the dependent adult, whether he or she is competent or not, and is made for the purpose of preventing the elder or dependent adult from having contact with family, friends, or concerned persons.
    • False imprisonment, as defined in Section 236 of the Penal Code.
    • Physical restraint of an elder or dependent adult, for the purpose of preventing the elder or dependent from meeting with visitors.
  • Abandonment occurs when a caregiver deserts the elderly or dependent person.
  • Self-Neglect requires intervention when elderly or dependent adults fail to meet their own physical, psychological or social needs or they threaten their health or safety in any way. Often times, physical or mental illness, isolation or substance abuse prevent elderly or dependent adults from being able to take care of their own basic needs.

What are the signs of abuse?

There are many indicators that may signal a need for help. Indicators do not necessarily signify abuse or neglect, but since they may be clues, a referral should be made so that a trained Adult Protective Services Social Worker or Public Health Nurse can examine the indicators.

  • Does the person appear uncared for, perhaps with bruises or sores, or dirty and unkempt?
  • Do they seem to have troubling behaviors such as agitation, bizarre behavior or withdrawal?
  • Do they seem afraid?
  • Does their home seem home dangerous or dirty?
  • Have they eaten recently?
  • Are they able to do basic things such as make meals, shop or get around?
    Is there unusual activity in their bank account?
  • Are they hoarding, squandering or giving money away?
  • Do they have unpaid bills or overdue rent?
  • Is their caregiver complaining of being exhausted or overwhelmed?
  • Is their caregiver isolating them (for example restricting visits or phone calls)?

More information

  • Aging and Adult Services Division participates in a number of prevention activities across a variety of programs. Examples include:

Active Access Collaborative: a collaborative of San Mateo County, local recreation departments, and non-profit community partners with the mission to promote healthy physical activity in the community.  Free and low cost (less than $5 per class) physical activities are listed on the Active Access website.  Specific physical activity programming for older adults are also listed.  For more information, call Teresa Chan (650) 573-2977.

Adult Abuse Prevention Committee (AAPC): a group of consumers and representatives from community-based organizations who are interested in preventing elder and dependent adult abuse.  The collaborative was responsible for the development of a drama troupe which provided education about elder and dependent adult abuse across the County.  A video of the performance with a facilitated workshop is available to community groups.  For more information, contact Aging and Adult Services Commission and Provider Services Unit (650) 573-2700.

Fall Prevention Task Force: a countywide coalition that aims to build and maintain a collaborative network to support fall prevention and resources.  It also serves as a clearinghouse for fall prevention activities throughout San Mateo County.  Tasks for this year include increasing communication on fall prevention and developing a comprehensive fall prevention education campaign.  For more information, call (650) 573-3728.

Tobacco Prevention Program: provided by the Community Health Division of the San Mateo County Health System, this program addresses issues related to the number one cause of death and disease in our County-tobacco.  Current projects involve providing services to all community members who would like to quit smoking, increase protections to ensure that all renters have access to housing that is free of secondhand smoke, and recruiting new members to the Tobacco Education Coalition.  For more information, call (650) 573-3777

Wise and Well: provided by Mills-Peninsula Senior Focus, the Wise and Well Program provides a comprehensive health promotion program consisting of screening, community education, and individual counseling.  Selected program sites serve low-income and minority senior communities.  For more information, call (650) 696-7663.

You will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to read both these publications.

Related websites:

How do I make a report?

If you are concerned or suspect that someone you know is at risk of physical emotional or financial harm or abuse, call Adult Protective Services. Anyone can make a referral to the APS, not just mandated reporters. Call toll-free any time of the day or night, any day of the week. 1-800-675-8437. Mandated reporters can fax the SOC 341 to Adult Protective Services (650) 573-2310.

What if the abuse occurred in a licensed care facility?
If the abuse occurred in a long-term care facility, contact the Long Term Care Ombudsman (650) 780-5707 or visit www.ossmc.org.

What happens when a report is made?
A social worker or public health nurse will respond to and investigate the report. If appropriate, an intervention and support plan will be developed using the least restrictive method of intervention. The client has the right to refuse any service or support. If a request for Adult Protective Services is not considered appropriate, the TIES line is available for consultation or to provide information and referral services.

What is a mandated reporter?

Everyone should report all observed, known or suspected incidents of adult abuse, but the following individuals are required by law (Welfare and Institutions Code Section 15630) to report:

"Any person who has assumed full or intermittent responsibility for care or custody of an elder or dependent adult, whether or not that person receives compensation, including administrators, supervisors, and any licensed staff of a public or private facility that provides care or services for elder or dependent adults, or any elder or dependent adult care custodian, health practitioner, or employee of a county adult protective services agency or a local law enforcement agency is a mandated reporter.”

"Any mandated reporter who, in his or her professional capacity, or within the scope of his or her employment, has observed or has knowledge of an incident that reasonably appears to be physical abuse, abandonment, isolation, financial abuse, or neglect, or is told by an elder or dependent adult that he or she has experienced behavior constituting physical abuse, abandonment, isolation, financial abuse, or neglect, or reasonably suspects abuse shall report the known or suspected instance of abuse by telephone immediately or as soon as possible, and by written report sent within two working days."

Mandated reporters must report any incident of alleged or suspected abuse, or a reasonable suspicion of abuse, which comes to their attention. As a mandated reporter, they are required to give their name. If they report something they learn about outside of work they could report it anonymously. All reports should be made immediately, or as soon as practically possible by telephone and mail (or fax) of the written report within 2 working days of learning the information. Mandated reporters include, but are not limited to:

  • Health care practitioners, e.g. doctors, dentists, nurses, therapists, and their office staff
  • Members of the clergy when they receive information about alleged or suspected abuse NOT within the context of a "penitential communication."
  • Adult personal care providers, e.g. attendants, day care staff, senior center staff
  • Adult and Child Protective Services staff
  • Law Enforcement Officers
  • Medical Examiners

For information, advice and 24-hour emergency response,
click here for the TIES Line.