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Emotional and Psychological Elder Abuse

While there are many different types of elder abuse (physical, verbal, financial, sexual), perhaps the most pervasive type of elder abuse encompasses psychological or emotional abuse. Emotional abuse may also be the most difficult to track, as it often goes unreported. While physical abuse, financial abuse, and sexual abuse of the elderly have criminal penalties, emotional abuse does not. Further, while financial abuse usually leaves a paper trail and an empty bank account, and sexual and physical abuse often leave visible proof, emotional abuse leaves little in the way of evidence but can be just as devastating.  Family members and loved ones may have no idea emotional abuse is occurring unless they actually witness the abuse firsthand.

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What are the Different Types of Emotional and Psychological Elder Abuse?

When a person acts in a manner that leads an elderly person to suffer emotional pain, then emotional or psychological abuse has occurred. Emotional abuse can be unintentional—or deliberate. If the person perpetrating the emotional abuse wants to hurt the senior, then the abuse is deliberate. If, however, the person is overly stressed and lashes out in anger or frustration, then the emotional abuse—while still serious—was not intentional. Emotional abuse can be verbal or non-verbal. Some of the most common types of verbal emotional abuse include:

  • Screaming at the senior;
  • Threatening the senior;
  • Yelling at the senior;
  • Deliberately intimidating the senior;
  • Calling the senior names;
  • Ridiculing the senior;
  • Blaming the senior for things that are not his or her fault;
  • Being deliberately mean and callous to the senior;
  • Deliberately causing guilt to the senior;
  • Embarrassing the senior in front of others, or
  • Talking down to the senior or talking to them as if they were a child rather than an adult.

Instances of nonverbal emotional abuse include:

  • Giving the senior the “silent treatment;”
  • Pretending the senior is going to be physically harmed;
  • Terrorizing the senior;
  • Ignoring the senior and isolating him or her from others;
  • Restricting the social interactions of the senior;
  • Hiding personal belongings;
  • Taking away personal belongings as punishment;
  • Limiting bathroom access, or
  • Limiting the senior’s access to food and water.

 What are the Signs and Symptoms of Emotional and Psychological Elder Abuse?

While not all behavioral changes in an elderly person will signal emotional abuse if you notice these behavioral changes you should definitely take a closer look. If there are several behavioral changes seen together, your loved one may be experiencing continual acts of abuse. The physiological effects of being emotionally abused include the following:

  • Withdrawal from loved ones;
  • Apathy or passivity;
  • Lack of enthusiasm for things previously enjoyed;
  • Agitation;
  • Unusual frustration;
  • Fear and anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness;
  • An inability to make decisions, and
  • Any behavioral or personality changes which do not have another clear reason.

The physical manifestations of emotional abuse include:

  • Insomnia;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Sudden weight loss;
  • A sudden loss of self-confidence;
  • Refusing to drink, eat, or take necessary medications;
  • Refusing to talk to others;
  • Cowering in the presence of the abuser;
  • Avoiding eye contact, and
  • Extremely low levels of energy, responsiveness, and physical activity.

According to Today’s Geriatric Medicine, it is believed that a staggering 54.1 percent of all elders suffer some level of emotional or psychological abuse. Emotional abuse brings mental anguish to the senior and can be constant—systematically and maliciously inflicting verbal and non-verbal abuse on the senior. When a senior is threatened with the deprivation of basic needs or physical punishment, emotional abuse can be particularly heinous.

Acts such as denying food, medication, or other types of basic care or placing assistive devices such as glasses, walkers, or dentures just out of reach of the senior can create an oppressive atmosphere for the senior, depriving him or her of mental well-being. When there are prolonged periods of solitude, as well as a failure to provide companionship and social interactions, this is also a form of emotional neglect.

In some cases, emotional and psychological abuse of an elderly person is simply a continuation of the domestic violence which existed when the senior was younger. Since 95 percent of men who physically abuse their partner also mentally abuse them, a spouse could continue perpetrating the emotional and psychological abuse, even after the senior is much older, and frail, both mentally and physically. In the past, it was primarily elderly women who were emotionally abused but as more grandfathers become custodians for their grandchildren, their vulnerability to emotional and psychological abuse increases.

What Causes Abusers to Commit Acts of Emotional and Psychological Abuse on the Elderly?

Just as those who commit acts of domestic violence usually blame their victims, those who commit emotional abuse against the elderly also blame the victims. The problem, however, lies in the abuser’s ability to effectively cope. This inability to cope could be from high-stress levels due to a heavy workload or could be the result of drug or alcohol abuse. In fact, according to Today’s Geriatric Medicine, the single most accurate predictor of both physical and psychological abuse against the elderly—or anyone else, for that matter—is alcohol abuse.

Mental health issues in either the caregiver or the senor also increase the risk of psychological and emotional abuse. When dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive deficits exist in the senior, there is a significantly increased risk that he or she will be psychologically abused. The loss of memory can lead to the senior asking repetitive questions, having accidents at home because he or she forgot to turn the stove off or the water off, or toileting mishaps. All of these increase the risk of emotional abuse for the senior. In short, the greater the senior’s needs, the more he or she is at risk of emotional or psychological abuse, as well as physical, financial, and sexual abuse.

Do Emotional and Psychological Abuse Often Go Along with Other Types of Abuse?

Should you find a loved one is emotionally and psychologically abused, you should know that emotional abuse often goes hand-in-hand with physical or sexual abuse. Even if you do not yet see overt signs of physical or sexual abuse, an abuser who emotionally abuses a senior will often move on to a slap, a shove, a pinch, and from there, to even worse physical abuse. Whatever the reason for the abuse—even if the caregiver is rightfully frustrated and overtired—there is simply no reason an elderly person should be forced to endure any type of abuse.

How are Cases of Psychological or Emotional Abuse Handled?

As noted, emotional and psychological abuse are not criminal acts, so it can be more difficult to convince someone to help. You can talk to a person at a local elder social services program, and you can certainly talk to your loved one to let them know the abuse is not their fault, and you are going to make other arrangements for a caregiver. If the abuser is a family member, the road is going to be much more difficult. If the abuser is on staff at a nursing home or assisted living facility, you will need to document the emotional abuse, perhaps with your phone, then speak to the director of the facility. If the facility continues to allow the abuser access to your loved one, you may have no choice but to move him or her to another facility.

How the Finn Law Firm Can Help

If you are facing a similar situation, it can be extremely helpful to speak to an attorney at the Finn Law Firm. We have helped many others face the same type of situation. We will ensure your rights and the rights of your loved one are properly protected and will do everything in our power to be your advocate while looking out for your future.

Areas Finn Law Firm Serves

  • Cook County
  • Lake County
  • Will County
  • Kane County
  • McHenry County
  • Winnebago County
  • DeKalb County
  • Kendall County
  • Grundy County
  • Kankakee County
  • LaSalle County
  • Sangamon County
  • Peoria County
  • Madison County
  • Clair County

Besides serving Illinois, Larry Finn is able to work with victims in most states and federal courts in the United States by working with attorneys in your area. If you are out of state, contact Larry to learn how he can help you with your case.

Contact the Finn Law Firm

When you contact the Finn Law Firm, you will speak directly to Larry Finn, the firm’s principal attorney, throughout the development of your case. Larry will treat you and your loved one with compassion and respect—with over thirty years’ experience, Larry Finn will help you through this devastating time in the very best way possible. Contact the Finn Law Firm today for a free consultation.

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