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What is Emotional or Psychological Abuse?

Emotional or Psychological Abuse: verbal or nonverbal behavior that results in the infliction of anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress. Examples of tactics that may exemplify emotional or psychological abuse of an older adult include behaviors intended to humiliate (e.g., calling names or insults), threaten (e.g., expressing an intent to initiate nursing home placement), isolate (e.g., seclusion from family or friends), or control (e.g., prohibiting or limiting access to transportation, telephone, money or other resources).

Elderly emotional abuse is referred to as elder psychological abuse

This form of abuse can be difficult to identify because there are usually no physical indicators that emotional abuse has occurred.

Emotional abuse against the elderly can happen anywhere, to include in an assisted care facility or in a nursing home.  Perpetrators can include volunteers, caregivers, family members or other individuals employed at the nursing facility.

This type of abuse can also happen within the home, with the perpetrator being a family member or a live-in nursing aid. The emotional abuse that occurs in a nursing facility includes any kind of emotional pain or psychological distress perpetrated against the elder by a caregiver at the home.

The emotional abuse against the elderly can be of the verbal type or the nonverbal type. Both can be devastating and include the following behaviors:

  • Blaming the victim

  • Scapegoating the victim

  • Engaging in demeaning behavior toward the elder

  • Humiliating the victim

  • Ridiculing the victim

  • Ignoring the needs of the elderly person

  • Terrorizing the elderly person

  • Behaving menacingly toward the elder

  • Intimidating the elder

  • Isolating the elder from friends, family or social occasions

  • Yelling at the victim

  • Using threatening behavior against the elder

The elderly person may show certain behaviors that are indicative of having experienced emotional abuse. These include the following:

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Having low self-esteem

  • Appears depressed or withdrawn

  • Appears shyer than they used to be

  • Seems disturbed, scared or hopeless

  • May engage in self-injurious behavior

  • May attempt to hurt others

  • May have acute mood swings

  • May have changes in eating or sleeping patterns

  • May have the perpetrator keep them from seeing friends and family

  • May not be allowed to participate in social interactions in the nursing home

If it is suspected that emotional or psychological abuse is happening, this should be reported to Adult Protective Services or to other authorities, such as the police. When the government is notified, they will assign the elder to a government-appointed caregiver who will evaluate the situation and the elder.

This caregiver may ask the elderly person questions about how they are treated on a daily basis, what activities the elderly person participates in, and who they mainly interact with. The caregiver may also want to know who the individual likes to spend time with the most and why this is the case.

If the elderly person lives in a nursing facility or assisted care facility, the government-appointed caregiver will ask the elderly person how they are spoken to by members of the staff. They may also be asked how often the family or friends visit. After the questions are answered, the caregiver may perform a psychological evaluation to see if the patient has suffered from any kind of elder psychological abuse.

If it has been discovered that elder emotional abuse has taken place, it is important to relocate the resident from their current living arrangements to one where they will feel safer.

In addition to the general signs above, indications of emotional elder abuse include:

  • Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior that you witness

  • Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself

In emotional abuse, there can be the presence of uncharacteristic or unexplained behavior on the part of the elderly person and the abuser.

  • The elder is withdrawn and fails to participate in usual activities

  • The caregiver often isolates the elderly person and won’t let them be alone with other family members

  • The caregiver can be verbally aggressive or demeaning to the elderly person

  • The caregiver may be controlling, but not want to actively care for the elderly person

If you need help

Visit One Place Family Justice Center at 530 S. Lawrence Street, Montgomery, Alabama or call 334.262.7378 or if you are in immediate danger Call 911.

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