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Nursing home abuse: More than physical

While your elderly loved one may not show physical signs of abuse, there is a more sinister type of abuse happening in care facilities and nursing homes: emotional abuse. It is perhaps the most common type of abuse that happens to the elderly.

The problem is that because it leaves no visual mark it can be difficult to identify. But knowing what emotional abuse entails and the signs of this abuse are the first steps in putting a stop to it.

The CDC defines emotional abuse as "verbal or non verbal behaviors that inflict anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress on an older adult."

Emotional abuse is usually verbal and includes:

  • Blaming, condemning, belittling and humiliating
  • Terrorizing and threatening harm
  • Leaving an elderly person alone and unassisted for hours or days
  • Yelling and intimidating
  • Isolating an elderly person from their friends and activities as a form of control or punishment

If your elderly loved one seems more withdrawn, is not sleeping or speaking, cowers or is emotionally upset and non-responsive, these may be signs of emotional abuse by a caregiver.

As we age, we can sometimes regress to childlike behaviors when threatened. If your elderly loved one suddenly begins to exhibit behaviors such as rocking, thumb sucking, biting or clinging to a favorite object, these may also indicate emotional abuse by a caregiver. Attempt to bring your loved one into a safe space and talk to them about what is making them afraid.

We've talked previously about nursing home neglect and abuse; however, emotional abuse is more far-reaching. Nearly one in ten nursing home patients are emotionally abused by their caregivers, as reported by the National Center on Elder Abuse. The cause of emotional abuse by a caregiver usually stems from poor training, their own psychological disorders (such as depression), ineffective coping resources or drug and alcohol use.

If you suspect your elderly loved one is being physically or emotionally abused or neglected in a care facility, hospital or nursing home, report it to Adult Protective Services and contact an attorney in your area who has experience with elder care to ensure your loved one's rights are protected.

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