Elder Emotional Abuse


Jan Reburiano

Elder emotional abuse is a serious issue that continues to plague nursing homes across the United States. When an individual humiliates, demeans, or yells at an elderly person, that may be considered elder emotional abuse. Understand the warning signs so you can protect your loved ones from lasting emotional harm.

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What is Elder Emotional Abuse?

Elder emotional abuse, or psychological abuse, occurs when an elderly person intentionally suffers verbal or non-verbal harassment from another party. This can take the form of yelling, insults, or indirect humiliation for the victim involved.

Multiple studies from the National Center on Elder Abuse indicate that emotional abuse occurs just as frequently as any other type of abuse. When asked, 2 in 3 nursing home staff admitted to committing abuse according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Because elder emotional abuse leaves no physical marks on its victims, it can manifest in subtle ways. Keep an eye on the following examples of elder emotional abuse:

  • Demeaning language
  • Humiliating gestures
  • Withholding basic care, medication, or food
  • Threatening social isolation
  • Controlling behavior
  • Restricting decisions from your loved one
  • Excessive scolding

All of these abusive actions inflict emotional harm to your loved one which violates their nursing home resident rights. Defend yourself from abuse through legal protection from an attorney who knows your rights. Proper legal counsel will expose the party responsible for your loved one’s physical and emotional damages.

Forms of Elder Emotional Abuse

Elder emotional abuse can take the form of verbal and non-verbal actions. Even before choosing a nursing home, you should take these forms of abuse into consideration. It may be difficult to prove non-verbal abusive actions, but watch out for these signs so your loved one is safe.

Verbal Emotional Abuse

Keep your ears open for signs of verbal emotional abuse in your loved one’s nursing home environment. Make sure their caretakers treat the elderly with respect and keep watch for the following verbal actions:

  • Mean-spirited name-calling
  • Excessive yelling or screaming
  • Condescending language
  • Threats of physical harm
  • Treating nursing home residents like children
  • Verbally embarrassing the victim
  • Blaming the elderly for things they cannot control
  • Constant gaslighting to cause grief or shame
  • Repeated misplaced accusations

Non-Verbal Emotional Abuse

Non-verbal emotional abuse does not inflict direct physical harm, but can indirectly cause emotional harm to their victim. Examples of non-verbal emotional abuse include:

  • Hiding or destroying personal belongings
  • Isolating the victim from other people
  • Preventing loved ones from visiting
  • Restricting basic necessities like food and water
  • Ignoring basic requests
  • Giving the silent treatment
  • Refusing to promote basic hygiene for the resident

Some states like New Hampshire have dedicated laws protecting nursing home resident rights. Look up your state’s nursing home laws to know whether your loved one’s caretakers are violating their rights.

Warning Signs of Elder Emotional Abuse

Before diagnosing elder emotional abuse, look for these warning signs to sense whether abuse takes place in that environment. Not only can abuse be verbal or non-verbal, but it can be intentional or unintentional as well.

Visit your loved one and see if they are exhibiting the following traits. It may be signs of elder emotional abuse:

  • Constant fear of their caregiver
  • Signs of self-neglect (lack of basic hygiene and cleanliness)
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Changing sleeping or eating patterns
  • Signs of harm like scars and bruises
  • Depression
  • Feelings of intense shame or guilt
  • Increased listlessness unrelated to health conditions

If your loved one is exhibiting these symptoms of abuse, it’s likely that other residents are suffering as well. Do your due diligence and visit your loved one, because their rights may be infringed and refuse to admit it.

They may fear retaliation from their caretaker or feel shame for their current situation. No matter the reason, make your loved one feel open to share their experience in their nursing home. This will help you diagnose whether abuse is occurring in their environment.

Who Can Commit Elder Emotional Abuse?

There are multiple parties who can commit elder emotional abuse in a nursing home. Keep an eye on not only the nursing home staff, but other parties around your loved one’s environment.

Nursing Home Staff

Nursing home staff must care for the elderly they’re responsible for, but numerous obstacles distract them from their original goal. Problems like understaffing cause overworked staff to lash out on the elderly. Despite these hurdles, the caretakers are liable for any wrongful actions taken against their residents.

Family Members

It’s a sad reality, but family members can also be responsible for elder emotional abuse. Adult children or distant relatives may ignore or even threaten elderly family members.

One instance of emotional abuse from a family member occurred when a 44-year old mentally-ill daughter “threatened to rip the phone out of the wall and nail his bedroom door shut while he sleeps if her father didn’t let her boyfriend spend the night.”.

It may be painful to see another family member mistreat your loved one, but their actions must change to prevent further abuse. You may not be able to sue for damages if the deadline to file for nursing home abuse runs out. If you see one instance of nursing home abuse, it may occur to other elderly residents as well.

Other Parties

Other parties that work in the nursing home system may be responsible for elder emotional abuse. Workers like live-in caretakers may abuse your family member without you knowing. There may be strangers who visit the nursing home who commit abuse to residents, regardless of whether they are family or not.

How to Diagnose Nursing Home Emotional Abuse

If you see the warning signs and suspect emotional abuse, you have to collect as much information as possible about the facility and what occurs there. If you plan to sue, your attorney needs information to calculate pain and suffering damages in your case.

Collecting information means talking to the victim involved. This may be difficult due to your family member’s age or medical conditions getting in the way of proper communication. Make sure they feel comfortable talking, interviewing alone to prevent the abusers from overhearing.

Oftentimes your loved one refuses to speak out for fear of retaliation from their caretakers. If their caretaker is preventing you from speaking to your loved one in private, that is another red flag to keep track of.

Interview them in private and ask neutral questions. Make sure your language does not suggest a hidden agenda. This will calm down your loved one and make them comfortable to speak.

Reporting Elder Emotional Abuse

Stopping elder emotional abuse means reporting the situation to the proper authorities. If there is a situation presenting immediate danger to your loved one, call 911 before reaching out to other organizations.

If you see elder emotional abuse, you can reach out to the following:

  • Your local branch of Adult Protective Services (APS)
  • A nursing home ombudsman
  • The domestic abuse hotline at 800-799-7233
  • The nearest police department

Each organization handles elder emotional abuse differently depending on the case. APS will investigate your loved one’s nursing home to determine the next steps. The police may be suitable for severe cases where physical and emotional abuse are involved.

According to the Department of Justice, only 1 out of 24 cases of elder abuse get reported every year. The whole nursing home may be investigated to prevent further instances of abuse from happening again.

Physicians and other healthcare workers are considered mandatory reporters in federal and state law. They are required to report to the authorities when they see instances of abuse. Even so, you can also do your part by reporting the situation yourself. You can help your loved ones, so don’t wait.

What to Do After Reporting Elder Emotional Abuse

After reporting the elder abuse, you need to move your loved one away from that hostile environment. Fire hostile live-in caretakers and consider speaking to a psychologist to remedy the emotional distress from the abuse.

When your elderly is safe, you need legal action from a nursing home abuse attorney to sue for your damages. Not only for your non-economic damages caused by elder emotional abuse, but for your physical damages as well.

Other Types of Elder Abuse

If you discovered elder emotional abuse in your nursing home, it’s highly likely other forms of abuse occurred as well. Include the following forms of abuse with your lawsuit to maximize your claim.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse often falls alongside emotional abuse, where the victim is assaulted through hitting, pushing, or using objects for harm. This also includes the misuse of restraints.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse occurs when someone steals or manipulates money or belongings away from a resident. This could be through changing banking information or stealing Social Security benefits.

The elderly may have large sums of income saved over the years from wills or insurance policies. Make sure to protect your loved ones from financial abuse.

Sexual Abuse

When a caretaker forces an elderly person to engage with or watch sexual acts, that is considered elder sexual abuse.

Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing home neglect occurs when basic needs are withheld from your elderly loved one. Examples of those basic needs include:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Supervision
  • Medicine

Find a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney to Represent You

If your loved one is suffering from the effects of elder emotional abuse, you need legal representation. Find a nursing home attorney to protect yourself legally while suing for the compensation you deserve. You have economic and non-economic damages that need to be addressed, and an attorney can sort through your paperwork.

Even though a nursing home attorney sounds expensive, it’s actually free if you connect with one who works under contingency. LegalASAP can connect you with a local attorney by calling 888-927-3080 or filling out the short evaluation form below:

Jan Reburiano is a content writer and SEO specialist for law firms focusing on personal injury, disability, employment law, among other practices. He has written and edited numerous articles and created commercial spots for broadcasters that you can find in his LinkedIn. Jan currently lives in Los Angeles, California while writing for clients from around the United States.