Nursing home abuse takes many different forms, including physical, financial, and even sexual abuse. Emotional abuse is one that’s often overlooked because there’s usually not a lot of evidence that it’s happening.
And the older a patient is, the more at risk they are of becoming a victim. Other factors that make a patient more susceptible to emotional abuse are race, being divorced or separated, having severe physical or mental impairment, and having low income.
Here’s what you should know about emotional abuse in nursing homes and what you can do to hold a long-term care facility responsible for harm your loved one has suffered at their hands.
What Does Emotional Abuse Look Like For Elders?
Emotional abuse is the infliction of emotional pain or psychological distress onto another person. This may be unintentional, but in nursing home settings, it’s often purposeful and intended to make the elderly patient feel bad about themselves or afraid something bad will happen.
This kind of harm is common in long-term care facilities and according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, a third of patients in nursing homes report experiencing emotional abuse within the past year. Both verbal and nonverbal abuse are forms of emotional abuse. Verbal abuse includes:
- Yelling or shouting at the patient
- Swearing at or berating the patient
- Calling names or leveraging insults
- Gaslighting the patient to feel like the abuse is their fault
- Intimidating the patient or embarrassing them in front of others
- Threatening or pretending to hurt the patient
- Ridiculing the patient or talking down to them
- Giving and withdrawing affection as a means of punishment
- Being mean or callous to the patient
- Blaming the patient for things like stealing or hurting someone
Nonverbal abuse can look like:
- Giving and taking things away from the patient
- Hiding or changing things to make the patient confused
- Giving the patient the “silent treatment” until the patient does what the abuser wants
- Ignoring the patient or isolating them away from others
- Not allowing the patient to eat or drink
- Allowing the patient to soil themselves
- Treating the patient like a baby or child
- Refusing to take the patient outside or to social activities
- Being dismissive of the patient’s concerns
- Manipulating the patient to feel or act a certain way
- Excessively monitoring the patient or prohibiting them from doing tasks they are able to
Anyone can engage in emotional abuse of an elderly person, including family members, nursing home staff, and other caregivers who interact with the patient often.
Symptoms Of Emotional Abuse
There are several signs that indicate emotional abuse may be occurring, but these are often difficult to spot in the midst of the many other health conditions that elders in nursing homes tend to face. It may be easy to write these symptoms off as something else, but you should be wary if your loved one expresses one or more of the following:
- Changes in behavior that are abnormal for them
- Suddenly avoiding eye contact with family members or caregivers
- Decreased interest in participating in social activities in the nursing home, especially if they once enjoyed them
- Attempts at self harm or attempts to harm others
- New paranoia or confusion that is unrelated to current mental health conditions
- Becoming withdrawn or depressed; rarely leaving bed
- Seeming agitated or frightened around nursing home staff
- Having difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Not being able to eat well or binge eating
- Mood swings and low self-esteem
Patients who have suffered emotional abuse may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and often need treatment and support to begin recovery. Treatment generally includes counseling and therapy for the patient as well as any medical care for physical issues caused by the stress, like insomnia or stomach upset.
Some nursing home patients may be given mood-altering medications to help with symptoms of anxiety and depression and in many cases, these are long-term and must be taken for the rest of the patient’s life.
How To Help A Loved One Who Is Being Hurt Or Neglected In A Nursing Home
The idea that your elderly loved one has been abused or neglected in a nursing home is unfathomable. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, our caring and compassionate elder abuse attorneys can help you gather the evidence needed to hold the facility accountable and will zealously advocate for the best possible outcome for your family.
Contact our Salem, MA office at (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084 for a consultation to discuss the details of your case or to get more information and answers to your important questions.