Vulnerable Adult Abuse – Webinar Notes

Identifying Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse


“Vulnerable Adult/Elder Abuse is one of our most invisible crimes.”


What is Vulnerable Adult/Elder Abuse?

  • Physical, sexual or psychological abuse or neglect abandonment or financial exploitation of an older person by another person or entity.
  • Can take place in any setting (home, community or facility)
  • Involves a relationship of trust, when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.



Consider recording depositions or testimony to preserve evidence due to the older person mental capacity or life span.


How many people are affected by Vulnerable Adult/Elder Abuse?

  • Elder abuse and vulnerable adult crimes are growing with our growing aging population.
  • 2-5 million older Americans experience abuse (Journal of Public health)
  • For every report of abuse, 23.5 cases go unreported
  • Elder abuse is often under-reported due to the shame and embarrassment the victims often feel.


How to Identify Vulnerable Adult/Elder Abuse?

Notice not only what the injuries are but where they are at (ie: facial injuries)

Tip: Take more time with these victims, build a rapport. Learn when is best to talk with them: is there a better time of day for them when they are more alert in order to get good information from them. Ask open-ended questions. Get them to tell a story. Use memory cues. Some may even respond to drawing to help share their story.


Your skills in Forensic interviewing will be especially useful in these cases.


Types of Abuse

“If someone is brave enough to come forward and say that something is happening, it’s important to investigate the situation thoroughly.”


Physical Abuse
  • Includes: beating, shaking, kicking – but could also include force feeding, unreasonable restraint, misuse of medication
  • Symptoms: bruises, black eyes, welts, broken eyeglasses/frames, open wounds, cuts, punctures.


Financial Abuse
  • Includes: denying access, stealing, hiding, purposeful mismanagement, deception, fraud, extortion, forging, improper use of legal document, identity theft.
  • Examples: unauthorized withdrawals using ATM card, unexplained disappearance of valuables or funds, suddenly substandard care, providing services that are not necessary, abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents, sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives, unexplained transfer of assets.


Emotional Abuse
  • Includes: criticizing, debasing, ridiculing, ignoring, yelling, humiliating, intimidating.
  • Symptoms: being emotionally upset or agitated, withdrawn or non-communicative or non-responsive, unusual behavior usually attributed to dementia.


Sexual Abuse
  • Can include: unwanted touching and fondling, sexual name calling, forced and coerced sexual acts, purposefully hurtful sex-Post menopausal issues, sodomy or rape.
  • Symptoms: Unexplained venereal disease, genital infections, vaginal or anal bleeding, torn stain bloody underclothing or bruises around the breasts or genital area.


Tip: Look hard for the corroboration in these cases.


  • Neglect is harder to see.
  • Can include: Denial of care (food, water, shelter, personal hygiene clothing bedding medical care medicine isolation, control of time activities contacts, disinformation tactics
  • (similar to domestic violence cases) taking the phone away
  • unsanitary and unclean living conditions (ie: flea/lice), unattended or untreated health problems, dehydration, hunger, malnutrition, untreated bed sores, poor personal hygiene, missing medical appointments, not taking medicines, missing follow-up treatments.
  • Basic activities of daily living are neglected, threatening personal health or safety.
  • Can include: poor hygiene, under-hydration or under-nourished, dirty clothing/bedding, inhabitable shelter and surroundings, neglected finances, neglected healthcare, hoarding.



It may not be intentional, but rather a result of caregiver stress. Social services may be needed.

Signs: desertion of elder at a hospital, nursing facility or other institution. Desertion of elder at a shopping center or other public location.


Mandatory Reporters

  • Similar to child welfare: health care practitioners, code enforcement, animal control workers, social services, law enforcement officers, medical examiners, paramedics, firemen and clergy.
  • Employers can be held liable in certain circumstances.


What should you do about Elder Abuse?

Report it.

Call your local police department.




Additional Resources
5 years ago
Vulnerable Adult Abuse
In 1960, a person could expect to live until they were about 69. Today? “Sixty is the new 50.” […]