Abuse of the Developmentally and Physically Challenged



Advocates for developmentally and physically challenged people estimate that individuals with disabilities are four to 10 times more likely to be the victims of abuse and neglect than people without disabilities.

Victims include men, women, and children of all ages who suffer from various types of disabilities including Down’s Syndrome, autism, Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy, and paraplegia. The abuse and neglect can take all forms, including sexual and physical abuse and financial exploitation.

  • Often, a person the individual knows and trusts commits the abuse, such as a relative, a caregiver, or staff person where the victim resides.
  • Most physical and sexual abuse against challenged individuals happens to those who are developmentally disabled, with women being particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse.

physically challenged boy


Signs of Abuse

Sadly, many abuse and neglect victims with disabilities continually suffer in silence because they are unable to communicate their abuse. As a result, dental health professionals are in a vital position to identify the physical signs of abuse and neglect. 

Some signs of abuse and neglect among the disabled may include:

  • Patient lacks needed dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aide, walker, or wheelchair.
  • Dehydration is indicated by dry fragile skin or dry sore mouth, apathy or lack of energy and mental confusion.
  • Patient has bedsores or skin rashes related to unchanged bed linens.
  • Caregiver refuses to apply for economic aid or services and resists outside help.
  • Caregiver is unreasonably dissatisfied with treatment and frequently changes dentists and/or other service providers.


Dentists are mandated reporters. If you suspect a developmentally or physically challenged patient may be a victim of abuse and neglect, please use these resources.

  • File a report by calling the Disabled Persons Protect Hotline at (800) 426-9009.
  • A written report is required within 48 hours of a verbal report.
  • Massachusetts Disabled Persons Abuse Reporting Form
  • If you feel a developmentally or physically challenged patient is in immediate danger, call 911.

Additional Resources

Use these resources for additional information: