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Vulnerable adult

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A vulnerable adult is an adult who, due to mental or bodily disability, cannot take care of themselves without help from others.[1][2]


Adults usually become vulnerable by cognitive impairment such as Down syndrome. Aging can cause or worsen a person's vulnerability, by physical decrepitude and/or lack of money.[3][4][5]

Many vulnerable adults have suffered abuse,[6] the long-term effects of which may aggravate their vulnerability.


A vulnerable adult's daily living activities may be affected by impairments such as illiteracy, communication difficulties, learning disabilities and other practical deficits. International initiatives (such as the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 4) try to fix this by giving them a fair chance to learn.[7]

Vulnerable adults' cognitive impairment puts them at greater-than-usual risk of abuse (domestic or institutional) and exploitation.[8][9][10] Vulnerable adults are also at risk of self-neglect if they do not receive sufficient support.[11]

Vulnerable adults often live in assisted living facilities or council estates, depending on the degree of their vulnerability and the accessibility of such facilities. Adults who are vulnerable as a result of trauma may be offered trauma counselling.[12]

Legal protection[edit]

A vulnerable person's legal status depends on the extent of their impairment. This can be difficult to assess. Some vulnerable people may not qualify for long-term care despite being generally unable to live independently.

Vulnerable adults sometimes have guardians - these are individuals with a legal right to make decisions on their behalf, such as those related to medical care and housing.[13] Guardians may be family or friends,[13] or they may be professionals who make decisions on behalf of many vulnerable people in exchange for their money.[13]

By country[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

NB The definition of a vulnerable adult in Section 59 of the 2006 Act is modified by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 2009, which excludes disabilities which don't make an adult vulnerable.

In the law of England and Wales 'vulnerable adult' is loosely defined. Section 59 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 says:[14]

1) A person is a vulnerable adult if he has attained the age of 18 and—

(a) he is in residential accommodation,

(b) he is in sheltered housing,

(c) he receives domiciliary care,

(d) he receives any form of health care,

(e) he is detained in lawful custody,

(f) he is by virtue of an order of a court under supervision by a person exercising functions for the purposes of Part 1 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c. 43),

(g) he receives a welfare service of a prescribed description,

(h) he receives any service or participates in any activity provided specifically for persons who fall within subsection (9),

(i) payments are made to him (or to another on his behalf) in pursuance of arrangements under section 57 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001 (c. 15), or

(j) he requires assistance in the conduct of his own affairs.[15]

In most parts of the world, the last section, (j), is what defines a vulnerable adult.[14]

People are starting to say 'adult at risk' or 'adult at risk of harm'[16] instead of 'vulnerable adult'.[17]


In Singapore, the Vulnerable Adults Act ("the Act") was signed on 19 December 2018.[18] The Act defines that a vulnerable adult includes anyone over 18 years old whose mental or physical disabilities leave them helpless against abuse, neglect, and self-neglect, which terms are defined in s.2.[19][20]

United States[edit]

The United States uses the term "incapacitated adult" interchangeably with the term "vulnerable adult". The Department of Justice defines this as "an adult who is unable to receive and evaluate information or make or communicate informed decisions to such an extent that the adult lacks the ability to meet essential requirements for physical health, safety or self-care, even with reasonably available appropriate technological assistance" (Civil Financial Exploitation 22 M.R.S. § 3472 (2020)[21]).

In 2012, Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota signed a bipartisan bill for vulnerable adults which made abuse and neglect into felony offenses. The bill also increased the penalties for those who use restraints to harm children.[22]

Governor of Minnesota signs bill to protect vulnerable adults with key proponents and legislators

Lawmakers worked with health care workers and the nurses union to craft the law. The Minnesota Nurses Association said:[23]

The compromise was an effort between all parties to protect the rights of workers in cases of understaffing, while giving the county attorney the right to charge someone who intends to neglect a vulnerable adult with a felony as opposed to a gross misdemeanor.

Before this law, the most severe charges were gross misdemeanors with no prison time. This law means that bodily injury carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison or up to $10,000 fine or both. On the other hand, partial or considerable bodily harm could bring up to five years in prison and/or up to $5,000 in fines.[24]

Latin America and the Caribbean[edit]

An estimated 12% of Latin America and the Caribbean has a disability. This amounts to 66 million people. The ECLAC has allocated resources to examine what can be done for housing for disabled people as well programs for education and employment.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vulnerable Adult | DSHS". www.dshs.wa.gov. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  2. ^ "Vulnerable Adult Protective Services Program" (PDF). November 8, 2021.
  3. ^ Gunnarsson, E (2002). "The vulnerable life course: poverty and social assistance among middle-aged and older women". Ageing & Society. 22 (6): 709–728. doi:10.1017/S0144686X02008978. S2CID 144931957 – via Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ Lloyd-Sherlock, P (2000). "Old age and poverty in developing countries: new policy challenges". World Development. 28 (12): 2157–2168. doi:10.1016/S0305-750X(00)00077-2 – via Elsevier Science Direct.
  5. ^ Patsios, Demi (1999). "Poverty and Social Exclusion Amongst the Elderly" (PDF). Retrieved 20 November 2021.
  6. ^ "Safeguarding Adults. Safeguarding vulnerable adults from abuse". patient.info. 31 March 2021. Retrieved 2022-01-31.
  7. ^ "SDG4's 10 targets". Global Campaign For Education. Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  8. ^ "Abuse in Vulnerable Adults". February 26, 2020.
  9. ^ "Types and Signs of Abuse | DSHS". www.dshs.wa.gov. Retrieved 2022-01-31.
  10. ^ Davies, Elliot (8 May 2019). "What is Institutional Abuse? Definitions, Signs & Symptoms".
  11. ^ "Self Neglect".
  12. ^ Dohler, Bailey, Rice, and Katch (May 31, 2016). "Supportive Housing Helps Vulnerable People Live and Thrive in the Community" (PDF). Policy Futures. Retrieved 2022-05-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ a b c "Acrobat Accessibility Report" (PDF). ncd.gov. Retrieved 2022-02-07.
  14. ^ a b "Safeguarding Adults. Safeguarding vulnerable adults from abuse". patient.info. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  15. ^ "Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006" (PDF). The National Archives on behalf of HM Government. p. 42. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  16. ^ Ann Craft Trust, Safeguarding Adults at Risk Definitions, accessed 21 October 2018
  17. ^ "Definition of an adult at risk". Birmingham Safeguarding Adults Board. 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  18. ^ "VULNERABLE ADULTS ACT 2018". December 19, 2018.
  19. ^ "Understanding the Vulnerable Adults Act". The Law Society of Singapore. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  20. ^ "Vulnerable Adults Act 2018 - Singapore Statutes Online". sso.agc.gov.sg. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  21. ^ "Elder Abuse and Elder Financial Exploitation Statutes | EJI | Department of Justice".
  22. ^ "Gov. Dayton signs vulnerable adults bill, making intentional abuse or neglect a felony". MinnPost. 2012-04-18. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  23. ^ "MNA Statement on vulnerable adult crime bill introduced in MN Legislature". Minnesota Nurses Association. 2012-01-12. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  24. ^ "Gov. Dayton signs bill protecting vulnerable adults". INFORUM. 18 April 2012. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  25. ^ "Disability in Latin America and the Caribbean – Public Policy Challenges | ECLAC".