Elders and dependent adults may be forcibly isolated from loved ones, resulting in profound mental suffering. Isolation abuse by family is covered by media. False imprisonment and forced isolation in long-term facilities are shamefully common.
CEDAR’s survey of San Bernardino County assisted living facilities found that 24 out of 25 facilities offered to isolate a resident on request from the person paying the bill. A San Mateo County facility included instructions for isolation in their written contract.
Law enforcement rarely intervenes in isolation abuse. In some cases, law enforcement facilitates the abuse. A San Bernardino County Deputy testified to having facilitated isolation abuse of an elderly woman with dementia.
CEDAR found that most law enforcement jurisdictions have elder abuse policies that do not reference Penal Code 368. Officers lack guidance that false imprisonment and isolation constitute abuse. Officers lack guidance that abuse is a crime.
Some elder abuse policies cite inappropriate penal codes that are not relevant to elder abuse and are prejudicial against families. CEDAR sees aggressive prosecution of minor errors by family, while heinous abuse by conservators and facilities is disregarded.
California’s Penal Code 368(c) states in part:
Any person who knows or reasonably should know that a person is an elder or dependent adult and who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering . . . is guilty of a misdemeanor. (Emphasis added)
Research has shown that mental suffering, as could be caused by isolation, leads to more adverse health outcomes than physical abuse. Victims of mental abuse are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, which increase the risk of hypertension, heart disease, and a range of associated conditions.
Requiring law enforcement policies and training to include Penal Code 368 could profoundly decrease the prevalence of isolation abuse perpetrated against elders and dependent adults. Reducing isolation abuse could decrease mental suffering and associated adverse health outcomes.