How to Spot Elder Abuse

Every year, hundreds of thousands of adults over the age of 60 are abused, neglected, or financially exploited.

The responsibility is on everyone to report abuse when it’s suspected. North Carolina law spells out this belief legislatively:

“…any person having reasonable cause to believe that a disabled adult is in need of protective services shall report such information.”

Below, the attorneys at the DeMayo Law Offices explain how to spot elder abuse and what to do if maltreatment is suspected. 

What Are the Signs of Elder Abuse? 

Elder abuse can be both obvious and obscure. What’s more, some victims may lack the verbal or cognitive abilities to articulate misconduct; such may be the case for victims who suffer from dementia or diseases like Alzheimer’s.

North Carolina makes clear the behaviors that constitute abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The definitions are as follows:

Abuse: the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, unreasonable confinement, or the willful deprivation by a caretaker of services necessary to maintain mental and physical health.

Neglect: a disabled adult who is either living alone and not able to provide for themselves the services necessary to maintain their mental or physical heath or is not receiving services from their caretaker. 

Exploitation: illegal or improper use of a disabled adult or their resources for another’s profit or advantage.

Each type of maltreatment can manifest differently. Common signs of physical abuse might include:

  • Unexplained burns, cuts, bruising, or scratches
  • Sprained or broken bones
  • Repetitive injuries
  • Radical changes in behavior
  • Fear of particular people

Common signs of neglect might include:

  • Dirty and disheveled clothing
  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss
  • Bedsores
  • Missing or broken dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or walkers

Lastly, common signs of elder financial abuse might include:

  • Sudden and unexplained decline in standard of living
  • New caregiver, friend, or romantic relationship
  • Lack of knowledge about significant financial issues
  • Suspicious behavior of relatives

If you suspect a vulnerable senior is being mistreated, contact your county department of social services for help. Click here for a directory of North Carolina County Departments of Social Services. 

For additional help, call the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services CARE-LINE toll free at 1-800-662-7030. 

Criminal vs. Civil Justice  

Crimes against vulnerable adults carry significant penalties. General statute 14-32.3 addresses elder abuse specifically. For example, if an elder adult suffers serious injury from neglect, the caretaker is guilty of a Class G felony; this is a mid-level felony charge and may be punishable by up to 31 months in jail.

In some cases, however, crimes against the elderly may fall under more general categories like assault, battery, forgery, or robbery.

Financial exploitation of an older adult or disabled adult is specifically addressed in G.S. 14-112.2:

“It is unlawful for a person to knowingly, by deception or intimidation, obtain or use, endeavor to obtain or use, or conspire with another to obtain or use an older adult’s or disabled adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the older adult or disabled adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property, or benefit someone other than the older adult or disabled adult.”

While criminal charges are justified, they may not remedy every problem suffered by victims and their families. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that prosecutors will obtain a conviction let alone financial compensation for damages.

North Carolina’s civil justice system, however, offers significant advantages for victims and their families including:

  • Increased anonymity
  • Increased control over procedural matters and settlement amounts
  • Reduced standard of proof; and
  • The potential to recover financial compensation for damages

If you suspect elder abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, working with an experienced elder abuse attorney can help protect the victim’s rights.

At the DeMayo Law Offices, we may be able help you and your loved one recover costs for hospital bills, pain and suffering, and future medical expenses.

To learn more about elder abuse or the DeMayo Law Offices, visit our video library, or connect with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

Office Locations

With North Carolina office locations in Charlotte, Hickory, Monroe and in Columbia, South Carolina, DeMayo Law Offices have been serving the state since 1992. You can contact us 24/7 and if you are unable to come to us - we will come to you.


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