Abuse of At-Risk Adults and Elders


 Abuse of an at-risk adult is when someone:

  • Causes harm to an at-risk adult. Harm can be physical or sexual, as well as inappropriate confinement or restraint. 
  • Takes money or other assets from an at-risk adult. Assets can be things such as jewelry, house, or other property.
  • Neglects the basic needs of an at-risk adult on purpose.

An at-risk adult means someone who is: 

  • An elder (meaning someone who is 70 years old or older); OR
  • An adult (over 18yo) who is unable to take care of their own health, safety, or welfare, which may include someone who is: 
    • Unable to walk, see, hear, or speak;
    • Unable to breathe without mechanical assistance;
    • Permanently missing a hand or foot;
    • Otherwise suffering from a significant physical, intellectual, developmental, or mental health disorder or disability, as defined in C.R.S. § 18-6.5-102(11). 

Sometimes at-risk adults who are being abused:

  • Seem scared around the suspected abuser
  • Are often fighting with the person who may be an abuser
  • Try to please or not anger abuser
  • Are giving money to the abuser 
  • Sign things giving the abuser access to their bank accounts
  • Seem sad or alone, and/or have low self-esteem
  • Seem scared, easily startled, hyper-alert, and/or emotionally numb
  • Stop doing normal activities - for example, things they used to like to do
  • Have frequent injuries that cannot be explained - for example, bruises or broken bones
  • Seem to be losing weight
  • Do not have food in the refrigerator or all the food is spoiled
  • Have bed sores
  • Live in places that seems unhealthy or unsafe - for example, a home with bed bugs, rodents, or feces
  • Have poor hygiene
  • Have no heat or running water
  • Are unable to pay their bills or are getting notices of bills being past due
  • Miss many doctor appointments or stop going to the doctor

If you or someone you know who is an at-risk adult (age 70 or older or a person with a significant disability) and might be being abused or neglected, you can call the police or Adult Protective Services to make a report.

Some people are also required to report abuse of an elder or at-risk adult with developmental and intellectual disabilities if they learn of it. If you or someone you know needs help on this topic, click here or here

To see Colorado statutes on abuse of at-risk adults, click here.

More on At-Risk Adult Abuse:

To read a little bit more about the different ways elder abuse can look, read below. This section is to help people learn how elder abuse can look in relationships. This section does not give legal definitions of crimes.

Emotional abuse:

Emotional abuse is when someone does things such as make threats, bullies, slams, or shames a victim over and over again. Emotional abuse can cause emotional harm.

Sometimes abusive caretakers:

  • Humiliate the victim in front of other people. - for example, leaving the at-risk adult’s private body parts exposed for others to see or making threats to put the at-risk adult in a nursing home
  • Control who the at-risk adult sees or what the at-risk adult does - for example, say who the at-risk adult can be friends with
  • Threaten to harm the at-risk adult or their pets
  • Threaten to take away the at-risk adult’s transportation or other things that help the at-risk adult live independently

Physical abuse:

Physical abuse is when someone touches an at-risk adult who did not want to be touched and causes pain or injury.

Sometimes abusive caretakers:

  • Punch, kick, scratch, strangle (also called choke), slap, or bite
  • Push, shove, or grab
  • Throw things
  • Use or threaten to use a weapon
  • Confine an at-risk adult improperly, such as tying them to a bed or wheelchair
  • Do not give medicine or give the wrong dose

Sexual abuse:

Sexual abuse is when a sexual act is unwanted or the at-risk adult cannot consent. Sexual abuse can happen once or many times. Sexual abuse can happen even after the at-risk adult has had consensual sex with the person before.

Sometimes abusive people:

  • Pressure at-risk adults to have sex
  • Have rough or violent sex that is unwanted
  • Rape or try to rape
  • Say they will not use condoms
  • Have sexual contact when at-risk adults are sleeping or passed out
  • Force at-risk adults to have sexual contact with others for money or drugs

Financial abuse:

Financial abuse is when someone tries to control the at-risk adults’ money or assets. The abuser could be a stranger or someone the at-risk adult knows, such as an adult child, caretaker, or spouse. Most financial abuse is carried out by someone the at-risk adult knows and trusts.  

Sometimes abusive people:

  • Steal the at-risk adult’s money or possessions
  • Sell possessions or property without permission
  • Sell possessions or property when the at-risk adult cannot give permission - for example, because the at-risk adult has dementia
  • Forge the at-risk adult’s signature in order to get money
  • Steal the at-risk adult’s identity
  • Take control of the at-risk adult's funds without permission
  • Take advantage of having the at-risk adult’s “financial power of attorney”
  • Force the at-risk adult to write or sign legal documents such as wills, estate documents, or bank documents

Sometimes, at-risk adults are targeted for financial scams. For example:

  • Telephone fraud, such as claiming they won a prize or claiming a family member is in danger
  • Investment fraud

For more information on fraud, click here.


Neglect of an at-risk adult happens when the caregiver does not provide needed care. Neglect can happen on purpose or by accident. Caregivers who commit neglect can be family members, friends, or paid caregivers.

Sometimes neglectful caregivers:

  • Leave the at-risk adult alone without help for long periods of time
  • Do not give enough food or drink
  • Do not give enough clothing or hygiene
  • Do not get the at-risk adult medical care; this can include not giving medicine or not taking an at-risk adult to the doctor after an injury