Vulnerability, Adults & Abuse


According to the National Health Service website, “Vulnerable adults are people who are at greater than normal risk of abuse. Older people, especially those who are unwell, frail, confused and unable either to stand up for themselves or keep track of their affairs, are vulnerable.”

The Washington Office of the Attorney General defines a vulnerable adult as one who -- by virtue of age, physical injury, disability, disease, emotional or developmental disorders – is unable to independently provide for their own basic necessities of life. According to the National Health Service, adults who are most at risk of abuse at home include:

  • those who are isolated and don't have much contact with friends, family or neighbors
  • people with memory problems or difficulty communicating with others
  • people who don't get on with their caregiver
  • those whose caregiver is addicted to drugs or alcohol
  • people whose caregiver depends on them for a home and financial and emotional support

What is vulnerable adult abuse?

Vulnerable adult abuse describes any intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. It can include:

  • pushing, hitting, punching
  • shouting at, berating, intimidating, or threatening to harm an elderly person
  • taking financial advantage of one who is lonely, vulnerable or has memory lapses
  • taking money an elderly person needs, “borrowing” money with no intention to pay it back, tricking someone into buying something they have no use for
  • neglecting an elderly person’s physical, medical and emotional needs or
  • allowing an older adult to neglect their personal needs

What are the signs that a vulnerable adult is being abused?

The following signs may indicate abuse:

  • unexplained injuries, bruises, burns, puncture wounds, cuts, sunken eyes and/or welts
  • excessive fears, withdrawal, agitation
  • sudden inability to pay bills, buy food or personal items
  • changes in appetite or unusual weight gain or loss
  • poor personal hygiene
  • does not know personal finances or
  • unexplained changes in health.

What can prevent abuse of vulnerable adults?

The Attorney General website suggests:

  • nurture communities where elders are respected and honored
  • report suspected abuse/mistreatment or self-neglect
  • find sources of help for vulnerable adults and refer to them
  • visit vulnerable individuals regularly and monitor the well being of elderly neighbors
  • keep track of medication and doctors’ visits
  • volunteer to help
  • realize abuse can happen in your family or neighborhood
  • speak up when something looks or sounds wrong

How can vulnerable adults protect themselves?

  • don’t live with a person who has a background of violent behavior
  • don’t hesitate to tell others if you are abused, mistreated, neglected (call your doctor, the clergy, a friend or family member)
  • don’t leave cash or valuables out in the open
  • don’t give friends or family money you need to live on
  • don’t sign a document unless someone you trust reads it
  • don’t allow anyone to keep details of your finances or property from you
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