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It has been estimated that roughly two-thirds of those harming a vulnerable adult are family members, most often the victim’s adult child or spouse. Research has shown that in most instances the abuser is financially dependent on the vulnerable adult’s resources and have problems related to alcohol and drugs.

Stay alert to the different types of abuse

The word abuse covers many different ways someone may harm a vulnerable adult.

Physical abuse is intentional bodily injury. Some examples include slapping, pinching, choking, kicking, shoving, or inappropriately using drugs or physical restraints. Signs of physical abuse.

Sexual abuse is nonconsensual sexual contact (any unwanted sexual contact). Examples include unwanted touching, rape, sodomy, coerced nudity, sexual explicit photographing. Signs of sexual abuse.

Mental mistreatment or emotional abuse is deliberately causing mental or emotional pain. Examples include intimidation, coercion, ridiculing, harassment, treating an adult like a child, isolating an adult from family, friends, or regular activity, use of silence to control behavior, and yelling or swearing which results in mental distress. Signs of emotional abuse.

Exploitation occurs when a vulnerable adult or his/her resources or income are illegally or improperly used for another person’s profit or gain. Examples include illegally withdrawing money out of another person’s account, forging checks, or stealing things out of the vulnerably adult’s house. Signs of exploitation.

Neglect occurs when a person, either through his/her action or inaction, deprives a vulnerable adult of the care necessary to maintain the vulnerable adult’s physical or mental health. Examples include not providing basic items such as food, water, clothing, a safe place to live, medicine, or health care. Signs of neglect.

Self-neglect occurs when a vulnerable adult fails to provide adequately for themselves and jeopardizes his/her well-being. Examples include a vulnerable adult living in hazardous, unsafe, or unsanitary living conditions or not having enough food or water. Signs of self-neglect.

Abandonment occurs when a vulnerable adult is left without the ability to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter or health care. Examples include deserting a vulnerable adult in a public place or leaving a vulnerable adult at home without the means of getting basic life necessities.Signs of abandonment.

Signs of physical abuse

  • bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks
  • broken bones
  • open wounds, cuts, punctures, untreated injuries in various stages of healing
  • broken eyeglasses/frames, or any physical signs of being punished or restrained
  • laboratory findings of either an overdose or under dose medications
  • individual’s report being hit, slapped, kicked, or mistreated
  • vulnerable adult’s sudden change in behavior
  • the caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors to see a vulnerable adult alone

Signs of sexual abuse

  • bruises around the breasts or genital area
  • unexplained venereal disease or genital infections
  • unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
  • torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
  • an individual’s report of being sexually assaulted or raped

Signs of mental mistreatment/emotional abuse

  • being emotionally upset or agitated
  • being extremely withdrawn and non communicative or non responsive
  • unusual behavior usually attributed to dementia (e.g., sucking, biting, rocking)
  • nervousness around certain people
  • an individual’s report of being verbally or mentally mistreated

Signs of neglect

  • dehydration, malnutrition, untreated bed sores and poor personal hygiene
  • unattended or untreated health problems
  • hazardous or unsafe living condition (e.g., improper wiring, no heat or running water)
  • unsanitary and unclean living conditions (e.g., dirt, fleas, lice on person, soiled bedding, fecal/urine smell, inadequate clothing)
  • an individual’s report of being mistreated

Signs of self-neglect

  • dehydration, malnutrition, untreated or improperly attended medical conditions, and poor personal hygiene
  • hazardous or unsafe living conditions
  • unsanitary or unclean living quarters (e.g., animal/insect infestation, no functioning toilet, fecal or urine smell)
  • inappropriate and/or inadequate clothing, lack of the necessary medical aids
  • grossly inadequate housing or homelessness
  • inadequate medical care, not taking prescribed medications properly

Signs of exploitation

  • sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money
  • adding additional names on bank signature cards
  • unauthorized withdrawal of funds using an ATM card
  • abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents
  • unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
  • bills unpaid despite the money being available to pay them
  • forging a signature on financial transactions or for the titles of possessions
  • sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming rights to a vulnerable adult’s possessions
  • unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family
  • providing services that are not necessary
  • individual’s report of exploitation

Signs of abandonment

  • deserting a vulnerable adult in a public place
  • deserting a vulnerable adult in his/her own home or living space
  • individual’s report of being abandoned