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Abuse in Later Life - Help is Available

Abuse in later life and elder abuse are terms used to describe harm to older adults. Abuse in later life and elder abuse can happen to any older adult and can occur in any setting and across all communities and backgrounds. Most offenders are spouses, partners, family members, caregivers and other persons in a relationship where the victim expects compassion and caring. Strangers may also commit other crimes against older adults, such as scams. In some case, older adults are targeted because of perceived or actual disabilities or vulnerabilities.

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 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 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 other laws may provide the means for defining, investigating, and prosecuting crimes, such as assault, theft or fraud.

Knowing basic definitions and dynamics is the starting point for understanding options and taking action. Most often abuse occurs in the person’s home, which can include private dwellings or facility settings. Some forms of abuse, such as stalking, intimidation, and harassment can also occur in public.

Researchers are still exploring risk factors for abuse later life. Some studies suggest that continuing to live with an intimate partner who has been abusive throughout the relationship; personal problems and dependency of the abuser; social isolation; and physical and/or cognitive limitations or perceived limitations of potential victims may be key risk factors.

Help is available. If you are in danger and want law enforcement to respond, call 911. To talk to someone confidentially for support and information, reach out to Someplace Safe near you or call us at 800-974-3359.

Remember, you are not alone. Unfortunately, too many individuals are hurt in later life by spouses, partners, family members, caregivers, and others. You are not the only one who has experienced harm.

Create a safety plan. Whether you choose to remain in your current living situation or choose to leave, consider contacting an advocate to create a safety plan. The National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life has safety planning tips and Someplace Safe advocates can assist you as well. Advocates can provide information about what you are experiencing and offer information about services and support.


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