Uncovering Emotional Abuse Against The Elderly

Elder man experiencing emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can be just as serious as any other form of elder abuse and should never be overlooked. Also known as psychological abuse, it can have long lasting effects that may be difficult or impossible to recover from. It’s important to listen to our loved ones and know the signs to ensure that they aren’t suffering silently.

Emotional or psychological abuse against the elderly is believed to be the most common of all types of elder abuse (followed closely by physical abuse and neglect). This may be because – unlike physical abuse which has much more concrete signs and symptoms – emotional abuse is much harder to detect and manifests itself in more subtle forms of aggression and manipulation. While emotional abuse may not always be visibly evident, the damage is by no means any less severe.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional or psychological abuse constitutes the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or non-verbal acts. This can come in the form of threats, verbal assault, harassment, humiliation, intimidation, and cruel, manipulative conduct. It can occur in someone’s home, an assisted living facility, or a long-term care facility such as a nursing home, and the perpetrators can be anyone from live-in caregivers, volunteers, family members, nursing home staff members, or other residents in a care facility.

This type of abuse is generally ongoing and systematic – perpetrated against the elder in the form of malicious, non-physical acts.

Common examples of emotional or psychological elder abuse can include:

  • Threatening an elder with physical punishment or deprivation of a basic need, such as denying or making them wait for food, medication, heat, or basic care.
  • Cruel tactics of manipulation such as identifying something that matters to the elder (such as a family visit, mail and phone messages, hobbies, activities, or going outside) and then using it to coerce them into a particular action.
  • Verbal assaults including shouting, insulting, or cursing at the victim.
  • Habitual blaming or scapegoating the victim.
  • Isolating the elderly person from family, friends, or social activities.
  • Terrorizing the elder or creating an oppressive atmosphere, such as by placing necessary items like a cane, walker, or dentures deliberately out of their reach.
  • Ridiculing, harassing, humiliating, or engaging in demeaning behavior towards the victim.
  • Interfering with decision-making and controlling the individual’s freedom when it’s not necessary.
  • Using extreme or odd forms of punishment, such as confining the elder to a closet or a dark room.

How Common Is Emotional Elder Abuse?

It is reported that approximately 10% of Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse, with a total of about 2.5 million victims each year in the United States. Statistics show that roughly 430,000 of those cases involved some form of emotional or psychological abuse.

Other relevant facts include:

  • About 67% of elder emotional abuse victims are female.
  • According to a 2010 study, roughly 54 out of 129 elders who suffered from dementia experienced some form of emotional abuse from their caregivers.
  • Studies estimate that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are reported to authorities.
  • According to a 2010 study by the National Center on Elder Abuse show that, most elder abuse victims were around 78 years of age.

Signs of Emotional/Psychological Elder Abuse

While emotional abuse isn’t always immediately recognizable, it can wreak slow and gradual havoc on a person’s overall health. The fear, distress, and prolonged mental anguish caused by psychological abuse can not only lead to mental isolation and feelings of low self-esteem, but can also exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues.

Moreover, the tricky thing about identifying this type of abuse is that sometimes the symptoms coincide with behaviors that are already common among patients with dementia or depression, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to themselves. The abuser may even try to pass these off as “normal symptoms” that a dementia patient would typically exhibit, when in fact they are being directly aggravated by the abuse itself.

These are some common signs among victims who have been emotionally abused:

  • Exhibiting sudden changes in mood.
  • Appearing more depressed, shy, or withdrawn than usual.
  • Avoiding eye contact.
  • Seeming hopeless, disturbed, or scared.
  • Being evasive and refusing to talk openly, perhaps out of fear.
  • Exhibiting changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Cowering in the presence of others.
  • Attempting to hurt others.
  • Engaging in self-injurious behavior.
  • Being prevented from seeing other people or participating in social interactions.
  • Displaying closed body language, huddling, or self-hugging.

If a loved one starts to exhibit any of these signs, it’s also important to look at the bigger picture and observe who they’re reacting differently to. Do they cower in the presence of a particular caregiver or family member? Is that caregiver or family member defensive when questioned, or deliberately evasive?

The following have been identified as common characteristics among abusers:

  • A history of alcohol and/or drug abuse.
  • Psychological issues such as bipolar disorder or depression.
  • Tired, stressed, or overworked appearance.
  • Exaggerated concern or conspicuous lack of concern.
  • Aggressive behavior or a known history of violence.
  • Treating the victim like an infant in a dehumanizing manner.
  • Not allowing the elder to be interviewed alone.

What Should You Do About Emotional Elder Abuse?

At first glance, emotional abuse may not seem as dire as, say, physical assault or financial exploitation, but in some cases, the effects can be more permanent than both of these things combined. The toll that an abused mind can take on a person’s overall health and well-being, especially in their later years, is astounding. Everyone deserves the chance to age gracefully and with peace of mind; to wilfully and maliciously interfere with that is not only morally reckless but illegal.

If you’ve noticed any warning signs or suspect that someone you love is being emotionally abused, get them to a safe environment or report it immediately (here are some resources on how to report elder abuse). To explore your legal options, contact Berberian Ain today for a free consultation with one of our Glendale emotional elder abuse attorneys. We can gather the evidence needed to prove instances of abuse, explore your case, and help you seek the compensation you and your loved ones deserve.