Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane County Department of Human Services

Elder Abuse and Neglect

(Ages 60+)

Call the Adult Protective Services Helpline at (608) 261-9933 to report suspected abuse or neglect of adults who are age 60 and older. This includes any physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse, as well as neglect by others or self-neglect. If desired, your call can be anonymous.

Important things to know about reporting abuse or neglect.

  • The nature of abuse allegations is sensitive and a report often has a big impact on families and individuals. As such, the Adults at Risk investigator will attempt to establish communication in the least intrusive way possible.

  • The reporter of suspected abuse or neglect can request to remain anonymous. Wisconsin law, Chapter 46.90 protects their identity.

  • The person who is the subject of the abuse or neglect report may refuse the investigation or services. If the person is competent and refuses the investigation, the investigation ceases. (Competence refers to an individual’s capacity to make informed decisions and does not refer to the quality of the decisions.)

  • A commitment to protecting a competent person’s right to self-determination is a guiding principle during the investigation process.

What is Elder Abuse or Neglect?

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

1. Abuse

  • Physical Abuse: Intentional or reckless infliction of physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.

    • When it comes to physical abuse, people often think of an individual's partner. But, the perpetrator can also be 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, please make an emergency call to the police immediately.

  • Emotional Abuse: Language or behavior that serves no legitimate purpose used toward an individual. The speaker's intention is to intimidate, humiliate, threaten, frighten, or otherwise harass. The language used does or reasonably could intimidate, humiliate, threaten, frighten, or harass.

  • 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, electroconvulsive 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. This does not include the 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:

    • Obtaining an individual's money or property by deceiving or enticing them, 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.

    • Theft, as prohibited in s. 943.20.

    • The substantial failure or neglect of a fiscal agent to fulfill his or her responsibilities.

    • Unauthorized use of an individual's personal identifying information or documents, as prohibited in s. 943.201.

    • Unauthorized use of an entity's identifying information or documents as prohibited in s. 943.203.

    • Forgery, as prohibited in s. 943.38.

    • Financial transaction card crimes, as prohibited in s. 943.41.

  • Financial exploitation is a serious and delicate issue. Usually, a family member or trusted friend perpetuates this crime. Often the victim would like 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. 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), the failure of a caregiver to try to secure or maintain adequate care, services, or supervision for an individual, including food, clothing, shelter, or physical or mental health care. Neglect can be an act, omission, or course of conduct and creates significant risk or danger to the individual's physical or mental health. This does not include a decision 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.

  • Neglect cases are often complex and are not usually resolved without professional intervention. Some neglect cases involve caregivers that are trying to meet both the needs and preferences of the older adult, but, 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. The challenge for the potential reporter of these cases is that often the caregiver is a family member or friend. As a result, feelings of loyalty or fear of retaliation interfere with reporting. If you suspect neglect, we encourage you 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), a significant danger to an individual's physical or mental health due to that individual being responsible for their own care, but failing to get it, including food, shelter, clothing, medical or dental care.

  • Self-neglect cases often arise when an individual's ability to care for themselves in their home 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 help. This is a challenging situation for older adults, their families, and their friends. When these situations persist, it is advisable to seek professional outside help. When you suspect self-neglect, an Elder Abuse Investigator will assist in finding a resolution that provides for the older adult's well-being in the least restrictive manner.

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

What Happens When Abuse is Reported?

When the Department of Human Services receives a report to be investigated, the goal of the investigation is to determine if the reported concern can be substantiated or not.  Additionally, if abuse is substantiated APS Investigators will work to mitigate any further risk to the alleged victim.

The scope of the investigation may include but is not limited to:

-          Visit:  A visit by an APS Investigator to the home of the adult alleged to be at risk

-          Observation: APS Investigators will observe the behavior of the adult alleged to be at risk

-          Interviews:  The adult alleged to be at risk will be interviewed.  Whenever possible, this interview will be private.  Afterward, APS Investigators will conduct interviews with other people who know the person and their situation.  Consideration will be given to the nature of the individual’s relationship to the at-risk adult before contacting them.

-          Health Review:  As needed, Investigators may review past treatment and health records

Once the investigation is complete, the APS Investigator will determine if abuse or neglect is occurring and will then take the necessary steps to mitigate any risk depending on the situation and the results of their investigation