Second Year Student Catherine Mahlen Writes Article on Elder Abuse

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

School of Law


This article was written by Catherine Mahlen, a second year law student at the UND School of Law, for Professor Christine Fritze's Elder Law class.

In 2009, one out of every eight Americans was elderly, defined as being age sixty-five or older, and this ratio is expected to double in size by the year 2030. As the number of elderly Americans continues to increase in numbers each year, physical abuse of the elderly will become increasingly problematic. Dementia and cognitive impairment can be causes of vulnerability to physical abuse in the elderly, as well as a history of domestic violence in the elderly person's past, reliance of the abuser on the victim for financial assistance, and isolation of the elderly person. There are three different forms of physical elder abuse: domestic, institutional, and self-abuse/ neglect.

Domestic abuse refers to the situations where mistreatment is committed by someone with whom the elder has a special relationship (for example, a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver). Institutional abuse, on the other hand, refers to any of the following types of mistreatment occurring in residential facilities (such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, group home, board and care facility, foster home, etc.) and is usually perpetrated by someone with a legal or contractual obligation to provide some element of care or protection. Self-abuse/neglect is when an individual neglects their own care. The most common warning signs of physical elder abuse are: tense relationship between elder caregiver and the elderly person; changes in the behavior of the elder person; changes in the personality of the elderly person; unexplained injuries; drug overdoses or failure to take medication; broken eyeglasses or frames; and signs of being restrained. An additional warning sign is if the elder caregiver refuses to allow the family of the elderly person to visit without supervision of the caregiver.

The laws of North Dakota, as well as federal laws, both provide protections for individuals suffering or having suffered from physical elder abuse. Elderly individuals should keep in touch with their close family and/or friends to avoid becoming isolated. If an elderly person suspects that he or she is being victimized physically by someone, he or she should speak up about the abuse. He or she should inform a close loved one, an elder care facility ombudsman (someone who investigates complaints by individuals in the facility), or call an elder abuse helpline. For the Grand Forks area, concerned individuals should call the crisis line, toll-free, at (800) 845-3731 or 24 hours a day at (701) 775-0525. If there is an emergency situation, however, individuals should call 911 or the Grand Forks Police Department at (701) 787-8000.