Protecting People at Risk

There are many different types of abuse, including:

Physical abuse
Emotional abuse
Sexual abuse
Neglect by a caregiver and self-neglect
Financial exploitation, most often by trusted persons
Financial scams

Although each of these has its own definition, victims may suffer from multiple kinds of harm, such as being physically and emotionally abused, or being neglected by a caregiver who is also taking the victim’s money.

How much of this is happening?

Nationally, research estimates that about 1 in 10 older adults is a victim of abuse, neglect and/or financial exploitation. Most of this happens in homes. The majority of perpetrators are family members and other trusted individuals.

In Minnesota, there were 20,000 reports of vulnerable adult abuse, neglect and financial exploitation reported to Adult Protective Services in 2011. The number rose to 32,000 in 2012 and 34,667 in 2013. But this does not tell the whole story. These cases do not include the ones that are reported directly to law enforcement or regulatory agencies, or those that go unreported. Unreported cases far outdistance the ones that are reported, for many reasons including a victim’s:

    • Embarrassment
    • Feared loss of independence
    • Not seeing themselves as victims or knowing where to get help
    • Expecting not to be believed
    • Poor physical health
    • Psychological dependence on the perpetrator
    • Reluctance to get a family member in trouble
    • Cognitive limitations
    • Cultural factors
    • Longstanding family dynamics make it hard to think there is any way out

Perpetrators–Who would do such a thing?

This is a problem without boundaries. It affects people all around the globe, in all economic situations, and is often hidden from view or a deeply-held “family secret” for many years. Some perpetrators are pillars of the community…the people you would least expect.

  • Family members
  • Paid caregivers
  • New “best friends” and “sweethearts”
  • Neighbors, property managers, landlords
  • Religious leaders and one’s fellow members
  • Interpreters and translators
  • Financial/insurance/real estate advisors/fiduciaries

People who are most at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation

Among all those whom the law defines as vulnerable and among those we think are at risk because of the people who live with them, these individuals have the highest risk of intentional harm by others:

  • People with cognitive disabilities
  • People with limited sight and hearing
  • People who are isolated, dependent on others
  • People who have suffered a loss (especially loss of spouse)
  • People who are confused by money matters
  • People who are tired, lonely, fearful
  • People who have trouble speaking English


Warning signs for each type of abuse, neglect and exploitation are included on their individual pages. There are also some indicators that may be present in any type of victimization:

  • The victim tells you s/he is being hit or left alone or threatened or robbed.
  • The victim “explains away” signs of harm or exploitation by a caregiver.
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Extreme agitation, panic
  • Withdrawn, detached, unable to talk
  • Regressive or self-destructive behavior
  • Newly exhibits fear of the caregiver, yet resists leaving the caregiver’s presence