Geriatric Neglect

Do adult children have a legal or moral responsibility to care for elderly parents? Can they refuse and subsequently be held responsible for elderly neglect? No federal law establishes obligations of adult children to care for parents, sometimes called filial laws. There is no such understanding in common law, but states can legislate their own laws of responsibility. A number of other countries do have such laws, and particularly in modern Asia they have been enforced with some vigor. Approximately 30 states require some amount of financial responsibility from an adult child, most usually in the case where Medicaid seeks reimbursement for nursing care or when adult assets have been disbursed early to children to minimize their assets. What if the parent refuses care? Is the adult child still responsible? Many people have found themselves morally, if not legally, responsible for parents who refuse to leave their home, even though the parent’s situation is unsafe and they may lack the ability to care for themselves sufficiently. It is an extremely difficult situation as the children find themselves responsible but not legally able to enforce a change of care for the parent. Lack of ability to care for oneself is not the same as being judged incompetent, and the elderly parent still holds the right to their own destiny. The rules are in the favor of the individual elderly parent, but societal pressure puts the responsibility on the adult child. As our population lives longer and elderly care costs can go on for many years, potential geriatric neglect is an area that could present to the health practitioner even more than before.

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