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What Is Elder Psychological Abuse?

Elder psychological abuse is the verbal or non-verbal infliction of emotional or mental anguish. Typically, the abuser repeats a pattern of behavior over time with the goal of controlling the victim through fear.  

Psychological abusers prey upon the many vulnerabilities of older adults to invoke the fear of violence, feelings of deprivation, indignity, isolation, shame, and powerlessness.

Deep emotional and mental damage can result, often with the victim requiring long-term treatment. Psychological abuse often opens the door for other types of elder abuse, particularly financial exploitation and sexual abuse.

What Are Some Examples of Elder Psychological Abuse?

Elder psychological abuse can take countless forms. Sometimes an abuser will employ multiple techniques to achieve a more profound response, particularly if they have an ulterior motive for emotionally or mentally abusing the victim.

Some of the most common examples are bullying, threatening, harassing, intimidating, and coercing the victim. Other examples of elder psychological abuse include:

  • Denying (or threatening to deny) the victim the right to have visitors
  • Threatening the victim with physical harm unless they obey
  • Humiliating the victim by calling them names, etc.
  • Treating the victim like an infant or child
  • Threatening to deny the victim food, water, or other basic needs
  • Isolating the victim in their room

At the heart of most psychological abuse is the threat to take away something of importance from the victim. Some of the most common sources of this leverage include:

  • Family visits
  • Contact with friends
  • Mail and phone messages
  • Hobbies, books, or activities
  • The ability to go outside
  • Financial assets

Sometimes, however, the threats turn to those things that, if denied, could cause significant harm or even death to the victim. These include:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Bathroom facilities
  • Bathing and personal care
  • Sleep

Abandonment and neglect also have the potential to cause psychological harm to elderly victims.

Where Elder Emotional Abuse Takes Place

This abuse can occur anywhere that older adults receive care and services from others. In-home caregivers can perpetuate abuse and neglect, even those who are related to the victim.

Often, however, older adults sustain psychological abuse in nursing homes and residential care facilities. According to the National Institute on Aging, women are more likely than men to be the victims of abuse, but abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere.

Why Does Elder Psychological Abuse Occur?

In the nursing home or residential care environment, psychological abuse can occur for a variety of reasons.

In some cases, this abuse occurs due to caregiver stress, overwork, and other factors that exert long-term mental and emotional pressure. Staff stretched too thin may neglect the basic needs of residents, causing mental and emotional distress.

In other cases, however, the abuse is intentional. In many cases, the abuser uses psychological manipulation to coerce the victim to sign over their assets or give the abuser control of the victim’s finances.

Abusers often choose victims who:

  • Rarely have visitors or outside contact
  • Lack the ability to communicate effectively
  • Suffer from dementia or cognitive impairments
  • Have more assets or higher wealth

What Are the Signs of Elder Psychological Abuse?

Unfortunately, this type of abuse can be difficult to detect. If you have a loved one living in a nursing home or residential care facility, watch for signs such as the following (that are not associated with the victim’s current condition):

  • Fearfulness
  • Withdrawal
  • Helplessness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Inhibited speech
  • Resignation
  • Passivity
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion

It may be easier to spot warning signs of emotional abuse if the abuser is present. These may include:

  • Refusal or unwillingness to make eye contact with them
  • Closed body language, huddling or self-hugging
  • Sudden unwillingness to speak or answer questions

Other potential warning signs of psychological abuse are sudden, unexplained personality changes and excessive fearfulness when visitors prepare to depart.

What Can You Do About Elder Psychological Abuse?

If your loved one faces physical harm, you understand how important it is to get them to safety. Psychological abuse can also cause significant damage and lasting emotional scars.

Unfortunately, family members may hesitate to take action or delay seeking help. The safest course of action is to move the victim to safety, out of reach of the abuser. This is especially important if you do not know who has perpetuated the abuse or if it is still going on.

Physical and financial abuse of an elder are criminal offenses. Unfortunately, not all states have criminalized elder psychological abuse. However, you can hold the abuser accountable for their actions and liable for the victim’s injuries and damages. A nursing home abuse lawyer can assist you, protecting your legal rights and fighting to recover compensation.

You may have the right to recover compensation for:

  • The victim’s medical and psychological care
  • Relocation expenses
  • Financial damages
  • Pain and suffering

No settlement can undo the damage caused by elder psychological abuse. However, financial compensation can provide the treatment and care the victim needs for psychological evaluation, treatment, and therapy.

For a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, contact 1-800-516-4783 today.