Elder & Vulnerable Adult Abuse

Vulnerable adults are an at-risk population for abuse. Vulnerable adults are described as those over the age of 18 years, who are vulnerable due to their age, mental, emotional or physical abilities. Examples include those who are paralyzed, disabled, confused and who rely on others to provide their care.

These individuals can be neglected, abused or exploited financially.

Physical or sexual abuse involves inflicting physical discomfort, pain or injury. It includes behaviors such as slapping, hitting, beating, burning, sexual assault and rough handling. Warning signs are suspicious bruising or other injuries or caregivers refusing visitors.

Psychological or emotional abuse diminishes the identity, dignity and self-worth of the vulnerable adult. Some examples are: name calling, insulting, threatening, ignoring, isolating, excluding from meaningful events and deprivation of rights. Warning signs include the person being emotionally upset, withdrawn or unresponsive.

Neglect is the failure of a caregiver to meet the needs of a vulnerable adult who is unable to meet those needs alone. It can include such behaviors as denial of food, water and medical treatment. Warning signs include dehydration, weight loss, unattended health problems.

Financial exploitation involves the misuse of money or property. Examples include stealing money or possessions, forging a signature, misusing a power of attorney, and tricking an older adult into selling their property.

The U. S. Senate has estimated the number of victims at 5 million/year. However, only 4 percent of older adults living in private homes reported experiencing abuse or neglect. Victims often do not report due to embarrassment, fear of rejection by loved ones or having to leave their home.

Factors that contribute to abuse:

  • The abusive caregiver often has mental health problems and is more likely to have a substance abuse problem.
  • Caregiver stress related to long-term care of vulnerable adults sometimes leads to abuse.
  • Children from homes with family violence may be "getting back at" a parent.
  • Older adults who live with someone are more likely to be abused than those who live alone. Older adults who live with grown offspring or other caregivers are more likely to be abused than those who live with a spouse.
  • Males are more likely to physically abuse. Women are more likely to neglect and financially abuse.
  • To prevent re-occurrence in serious cases, changing the living arrangements is usually more effective than giving care giving assistance to the abuser.