Emotional Abuse

Emotional Abuse of the Elderly

elder abuse

The abuses against the elderly can be of several different types. While physical abuse is the most visible type of abuse against the elderly, emotional abuse may be even more common.

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 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.

Types of Emotional Abuse against the Elderly

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 (1):

  • 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

Statistics on Elder Emotional Abuse

  • According to the American Public Health Association (APHA) there are about 2.5 million victims of elder abuse each year in the US.
  • Reported cases of emotional abuse against the elderly amounted to about 435,000, cases.
  • Data compiled by the National Center on Elder Abuse showed that in 2010, the average age of an abused individual was 78 years old.
  • About 67 percent of elder emotional abuse victims were women.
  • 66 percent of cases of elder abuse were reported by Caucasians, with about 19 percent occurring in African-American and 10 percent in Hispanics.

Evidence of Elder Emotional Abuse

The elderly person may show certain behaviors that are indicative of having experienced some kind of emotional abuse. These include the following (1):

  • 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  • Appears depressed or withdrawn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

Diagnosing Emotional Abuse 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.

Treating Cases of Elder Emotional 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. This may be another nursing facility or it can be in the family’s home, making use of an adult day care situation.

The elderly person may also be assigned to see a counselor chosen by the state. In very severe cases, the elderly person may require calming medications to help them sleep better and be able to cope with the emotional distress they have experienced.

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Dr. Christine Traxler

Christine Traxler, MD is a retired family practice physician, graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in 1986, and freelance writer, having worked with patients in rural Minnesota for two decades. She has written several books on medical topics and currently resides in Minneapolis, MN, where she works as a freelance writer on medical topics.

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