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

  1. Physical abuse is the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or unreasonable confinement on a person. It includes, but is not limited to, beating, choking or burning, giving inappropriate medication, or tying or locking up a person. It also includes sexual abuse, which occurs when a person has been forced, tricked, threatened or coerced into sexual contact against one’s will.
  2. Material abuse, sometimes called financial exploitation, is the misuse of a senior’s money or property. It includes deception, diverting income, mismanagement of funds, and taking money or possessions against a person’s will.
  3. Neglect occurs when a caregiver’s failure to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical or dental care results in significant danger to the physical or mental health of a senior in his/her care.
  4. Self-neglect means a significant danger to a senior’s physical or mental health because the person is unable or fails to provide him/herself with adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical or dental care.

Wisconsin’s Elder Abuse Law Chapter 46.90 of the Wisconsin Statutes mandates each county to provide a publicized phone number to receive reports of suspected elder abuse and designate a lead agency for investigation and reporting purposes. Most often, this is the county aging unit or department of social or human services.

Lead agencies must begin investigation of physical abuse, neglect or self-neglect within 24 hours of receiving a report (excluding weekends and holidays) and within five working days of receiving a report of material abuse. Based on the results of its investigation, the lead agency may offer services to help solve the problem (subject to the limits of funding availability). If necessary, lead agencies may notify the appropriate law enforcement agency.

When abuse occurs in a nursing home, community-based residential facility or by a licensed home health agency, the complaint is referred to the state Department of Health and Family Services for investigation.

Although the law requires counties to provide a means of reporting elder abuse, the system itself is voluntary. It does not require reporting by attorneys or other professionals, and it respects the individual’s right to self-determination. Competent adults have the right to decide where and how they live and whether or not they want intervention in their lives. Victims of elder abuse may refuse an investigation by an elder abuse worker. They may also refuse any help as long as they are legally competent. Help is available if it is wanted and needed.

Reporting Suspected Elder Abuse

To report suspected elder abuse, call the Elder Abuse Helpline. A telephone helpline has been established in every county by the lead elder abuse agency for reporting suspected cases of elder abuse. The caller’s confidentiality is protected by law. No person may be held civilly or criminally liable or be found guilty of unprofessional conduct for reporting in good faith. If possible, callers should be prepared to report what happened, who the incident affects, when it happened and where it occurred. If you are unsure and a situation warrants an investigation, contact your county’s lead elder abuse agency for consultation.

Services Available

The principal purpose of an elder abuse investigation is to determine what happened and then offer services to the senior to prevent or relieve abuse. The lead elder abuse agency will make every effort to offer services that will keep the senior in his or her home. Services that may be offered, include medical services, day or respite care, home-related services (e.g., meal deliveries, home repairs, friendly visitors, etc.), transportation, dietary assistance, counseling, support groups, referral to sources of financial assistance or legal assistance, mental health services, and criminal justice interventions.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services