How to identify and help an adult at risk of harm

Usually, adults with mental health problems, physical or learning disabilities or other health problems manage to live their lives comfortably and securely. In most cases, people live independently or with help from relatives, friends, neighbours, professionals or volunteers.

However, a small number of adults may experience harm, such as:

  • physical abuse
  • being bullied or threatened
  • being forced or pressured into sexual activity, such as being touched, having to watch or look at sexual material (for example videos or magazines), or having sex
  • having their money or possessions taken
  • not receiving the care that they need.

Why might an adult be less able to protect themselves?

An adult might be less able to protect themselves because they:

  • have a mental illness or form of dementia; l are an older person (over 65 years old); l have a physical disability
  • are frail
  • have a learning disability
  • have sight problems or are blind
  • have hearing problems or are deaf.

How would I know if someone is being harmed?

An adult may tell you that they are being harmed. More often the sign that they are being harmed is something you see or hear.

The adult might:

  • behave in an unusual way
  • have injuries or regularly get infections
  • suddenly become confused
  • be unusually drowsy most of the time
  • be scared of another person or be scared of going home
  • be overly worried or upset
  • not have much money or food
  • be left in a situation where they are at serious risk, which could be avoided
  • not be receiving appropriate medical care; l be depressed, withdrawn or suspicious; or l have needs that are not being met

Alternatively, someone might tell you something that makes you think that an adult is being harmed.

Where does harm happen?

Harm can happen anywhere, including a person’s own home, a care home, a hospital, at work or college or in a public place.

Who can harm vulnerable adults?

Anyone can cause harm to vulnerable adults, and often it is someone who the adult knows and trusts.

An adult could be harmed by a:

  • partner
  • relative
  • friend
  • professional member of care staff
  • health worker
  • neighbour
  • volunteer
  • solicitor or financial advisor
  • member of the community; or l stranger.

A person who causes harm may also be an adult at risk