Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Abuse in Vulnerable Adults

Abuse in Vulnerable Adults

Abuse in Vulnerable Adults—Topic Overview

Adults with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities are more vulnerable than other adults because they are not as independent. They may have a hard time making decisions. Or they may have problems controlling their behavior. Along with older adults, these vulnerable adults have a higher risk of being abused by others.

Types of abuse

These are three types of abuse.

  • Domestic abuse. This usually happens in the person's home or in the home of the caregiver. The abuser is often a relative, a close friend, or a paid companion.
  • Institutional abuse. This happens in a nursing home, foster home, or assisted-living facility. The abuser's job is to help care for the vulnerable adult.
  • Self-neglect. In addition to abuse from others, a vulnerable adult may not take care of himself or herself very well.

Acts of abuse

Abuse in vulnerable adults can include:

  • Violent acts. These include hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, and burning. Other examples are misuse of medicines or physical restraints and force-feeding.
  • Forced sexual contact. This includes rape, forced nudity, and sexual photos.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse. This includes name-calling, insults, threats, intimidation, humiliation, and harassment. Other examples are treating the person like a baby, giving the "silent treatment," and not letting the person see loved ones or do regular activities.
  • Neglect. This can include not providing for basic needs. It can also include financial neglect, such as withholding payment for nursing home care or assisted living.
  • Misuse of money, property, or assets. This includes forging the person's signature, stealing money, and stealing valuable things. It also includes tricking the person into signing papers to transfer money, property, or assets.

Things that increase the risk of abuse

Abuse of vulnerable adults is a complex problem. Risk factors include:

  • A pattern of domestic violence over time.
  • Personal problems of caregivers. This can happen if the abuser needs financial or other support from the vulnerable person.
  • Social isolation. Caregivers or family members may try to limit contact with others. This can make it easier to keep the abuse a secret.

Signs of abuse

  • Along with reports from the vulnerable person about abuse, there are other signs to look out for. They may include:
    • Bruises, black eyes, welts, and rope marks. They can also include cuts, punctures, burns, or injuries that have not been treated.
    • Broken bones, including the skull.
    • Sprains, dislocations, or internal injuries.
    • Broken glasses or dentures.
    • Signs of being restrained.
    • Lab reports of too much or too little medicine.
    • A vulnerable adult's sudden change in behavior.
    • A caregiver that refuses to let visitors see the person alone.
  • Signs of possible sexual abuse include:
    • Bruises around the breasts or genitals.
    • A sexually transmitted infection (STI) or other genital infection that can't be explained.
    • Bleeding from the vagina or anus that can't be explained.
    • Underwear that is torn or stained.
  • Signs of emotional or psychological abuse include:
    • Seeming upset or nervous.
    • Acting more quiet or paranoid than normal.
    • Behaving strangely. This may include sucking, biting, and rocking.
  • Signs of neglect may include:
    • Dehydration (not enough water or fluids).
    • Malnutrition (not enough food).
    • Untreated health problems.
    • Pressure injuries (pressure sores).
    • Unclean clothes, or an unclean body.
    • Living in a place that isn't clean or safe.
  • Signs of financial abuse include:
    • Sudden banking changes, such as large withdrawals.
    • Added names on a vulnerable person's bank card.
    • Sudden changes in a will or other legal document.
    • Missing money or valuable things.
    • Unpaid bills or lack of care, even when money isn't a problem.
    • Forging the person's signature.
    • Relatives showing up who weren't involved before.
    • Paying for services that aren't needed.

Help for abuse

If you're worried about possible abuse of a vulnerable adult, talk to his or her doctor. You can also talk to your own doctor if you need help knowing what to do.

To report abuse or to get help, call Adult Protective Services (APS) in your state.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details