Elder Abuse


It is hard to imagine that vulnerable older adults might be taken advantage of or might not properly care for themselves. However, if it does happen, the person needs immediate protection and assistance.

USAElder abuse occurs nationwide. Generally, the definitions of elder abuse are similar from state to state. How occurrences of elder abuse are handled and reported may vary from state to state. Be sure to check with a local agency.

NCAny suspicion of the occurrence of Elder Abuse must be reported, according to North Carolina law. North Carolina law gives each county Department of Social Services the responsibility to offer services to adults who are unable to help themselves. The Adult Protective Services Department of the Department of Social Services handles these Elder Abuse reports. Contact your local Department of Social Services for assistance.

The discussions below are based on NC law. Elder abuse statutes may vary from state to state but the basic definitions and parameters will be the same.




Caregiver Stress and Elder Abuse

Stressed Woman

Unfortunately, caring for an older family member can be stressful. Many caregivers don't recognize that they are under extreme duress until it is too late. With education, caregivers can recognize the signs of harmful stress and can take action before stress takes over. Don't let yourself be overcome. Ask for help. The Administration on Aging recognizes caregiver stress as a real occurrence worthy of professional assistance. Use the links below to find out how to get help.

Keep in mind that the majority of elder abuse cases have been found to be caregivers neglecting the needs of their family member. If you find you are unable to provide needed care, seek help. Contact a local caregiver specialist to find out what help is available where you live.





Types of Elder Abuse

Three areas are defined in North Carolina Elder Abuse law:

  • abuse – the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, unreasonable confinement, or the willful deprivation by a caretaker of services, which are necessary to maintain mental and physical health

  • neglect – refers to a disabled/vulnerable/impaired adult who is either living alone and not able to provide for him/her self the services which are necessary to maintain his/her mental or physical health (self-neglect) or is not receiving needed services from his/her caretaker

  • exploitation – the illegal or improper use of a disabled or vulnerable or impaired adult or his/her resources for another’s profit or advantage

Within these three areas fall categories of abuse such as:

  • physical abuse – the use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment

  • misuse of restraints – chemical or physical control of an older adult long-term care facility resident beyond what their physician has ordered

  • sexual abuse – non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an older adult and/or sexual contact with any person incapable of giving consent

  • emotional or psychological abuse – the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts

  • neglect – the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an older adult

  • abandonment – the desertion of an older adult by an individual who has assumed responsibility for providing care or by a person with physical custody of the older adult

  • financial or material exploitation – the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets
  • self-neglect – characterized as the behavior of an older adult that threatens his/her own health or safety without the understanding of the consequences of his/her decision




How Can You Help?

The following is excerpted from an Elder Abuse brochure developed by the N.C. Division of Social Services.

Recognizing abuse is the first step.

 You should be concerned about an older or disabled adult who:

  • Needs medical care and is not getting it.
  • Has a change in the way he or she looks. For example, the adult may lose a lot of weight or lose interest in keeping clean or dressing neatly.
  • Has a change in the way he or she acts. For example, the adult may become depressed, withdrawn, forgetful, suicidal or violent.
  • Does not have enough food or a safe home.
  • Is not able to cook, eat, bathe, or dress, and there is nobody to help.
  • Has unexplained bruises or other injuries.
  • Does not have necessary things such as food or medicine even though he or she should have enough money.
  • Has been asked to sign papers without understanding what they mean.

    This list is not exhaustive but is meant to show the types of things to look for.


Reporting suspected occurrences of Elder Abuse is the second step.

Call your county Department of Social Services and/or Adult Protective Services Agency.


Gather as much information about the situation as you can (names, addresses, details of the suspected abuse, age of person(s), people involved, etc.). You don’t have to give your name when you call, however, if you want to know the results of your call, contact information will be needed. The Adult Protective Services representative will evaluate the information that you give and determine if the situation falls within their authority to investigate.

If Adult Protective Services indicates that the referral falls outside of their limited legal authority, then there is third step to follow.

Reporting suspected occurrences of Elder Abuse to the appropriate agency with local jurisdiction is the third step.

Adult Protective Services can only investigate suspected incidents of Elder Abuse under certain conditions. However, if an incidence of Elder Abuse is suspected, the older adult still needs assistance right away.

There are other agencies that are available to help if Adult Protective Services cannot.


Again, collect all the information about the situation that you can before you call. And, no personal information is required of a caller unless you would like follow-up information.

Remember, don't get discouraged. If abuse is suspected, that older adult needs your help. You will be helping those who cannot help themselves. And remember, no personal information about the person reporting suspected abuse is required. Any information you provide is voluntary and completely confidential.

If you need to report a case of elder abuse and you're just not sure which agency to call, visit our links page for the state where the person being abused lives and scroll to "Elder Abuse". If no link is listed contact the Area Agency on Aging or state aging agency for that state. Or, contact your local Adult Protective Services. If your issue relates to a long-term care facility, contact your Ombudsman Program. Any of these agencies will be glad to assist you.


Older adults can also be victims of crime that is not specifically called Elder Abuse. For more information on how to help a victim of a crime, including information on how they might feel and what supports they may need, go to the website of the National Organization for Victim Assistance.


You Can Make the Difference!




Preventing Financial Elder Abuse

Financial Elder Abuse often goes undetected for a long period of time. This type of abuse is not limited to family members of the affected person. The California Advocates of Nursing Home Reform has put together fact sheets on how to recognize financial Elder Abuse and how to prevent it.




Web Resources

Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect of the Elderly (CANE)
a computerized collection of elder abuse resources and materials. It is located at the University of Delaware.

National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)
provides assistance, publications, data and information on elder abuse to professionals and the public. NCEA also offers technical assistance and training to professionals, conducts short-term research, and assists with elder abuse programs and policy development. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Administration on Aging, the center has four partners: the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Law and Aging, the Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect for the Elderly at the University of Delaware, the National Adult Protective Services Association, and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and is administered under the auspices of the National Association of State Units on Aging.

National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center
provides support, technical assistance and training to the 52 State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs and their statewide networks of regional programs. The objectives are to enhance the skills, knowledge and management capacity of the State programs to enable them to effectively work for improved quality of life and care for residents of long-term care facilities. It is funded by the Administration on Aging, and is operated by the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform in cooperation with the National Association of State Units on Aging. The Center provides consultation, information and referral for ombudsmen and residents, and training.

Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Resource Center
provides information on ways to prevent, recognize and stop the abuse and neglect of the elderly in nursing homes including legal remedies. This site is sponsored by an attorney who practices nursing home abuse and neglect litigation.


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