Know the Basics

Some people call the problem “elder abuse.” Others refer to “vulnerable adults.” Others may focus on domestic “abuse in later life.” Each of these is a way of focusing on adults who are especially at risk of being a victim of abuse, neglect or financial crimes. Minnesota law establishes protections under the Vulnerable Adult Act and the Criminal Code to address all of these problems. The Vulnerable Adult Act defines those at risk as:

• people over the age of 18
• who are in the hospital, or
• live in a residential facility, or
• receive services at or from a facility or from a home care provider, or
• people who have a physical, mental or emotional infirmity that makes them unable to provide for their basic needs and unable to protect themselves from harm.

Consequently, the law does not categorize everyone over a certain age, like 65, a vulnerable adult. The same is true for people with disabilities. People with vision impairment or difficulty walking without assistance are not “vulnerable” unless these other factors, listed above, are present. The factors are ones that, in general, make some older people and some people with disabilities at greater risk for harm. The protection laws are based on the susceptibility to harm, not on the age or disability alone.

In cases where the Vulnerable Adult Act and its associated criminal law are not applicable to an older victim or one with disabilities, the criminal law provides other means for defining, investigating, and prosecuting crimes, such as assault and theft.

Knowing basic definitions and dynamics is the starting point for understanding options and taking action.