Signs of Elderly Emotional Abuse | Verbal and Emotional Elder Abuse | TorHoerman Law

News » Signs of Elderly Emotional Abuse | Verbal and Emotional Elder Abuse | TorHoerman Law

Signs of Elderly Emotional Abuse | TorHoerman Law

Physical abuse is often the first thing that comes to mind for most people when discussing any form of abuse, including elder abuse. Yet, mental or emotional mistreatment is the most common for older people, with a 54.1% incident rate. However, it can often go unnoticed and unchecked due to its harder-to-spot signs. Recognizing maltreatment is essential for families looking to protect their older relatives’ well-being.

Indicators like depression, changes in behavior, isolated activities, or a general reluctance towards social interaction could all point toward underlying issues with possible mistreatment on hand — vital knowledge for those aware of potential threats against older people. But we must understand what psychological abuse entails before we recognize such signs.

What Is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is a serious issue and can take a variety of forms, whether it be mental and emotional abuse — which can manifest as verbal harassment, threats, intimidation, or manipulation — or physical and sexual abuse. Neglecting basic needs such as providing food and shelter is also mistreatment. No matter the form, all kinds of abuse can cause distress to an older person’s well-being.

It can be especially prevalent in group homes, making older adults targets for nursing home abuse. Knowing how to detect signs of maltreatment is critical, so families must pay attention to telltale signs to take appropriate action should anything untoward happen, such as financial exploitation or isolation.

Types of Mental and Emotional Elder Abuse

Depending on the situation, mental and emotional abuse can vary from mild to severe. Some of the most common types of elder maltreatment include:

  1. Verbal abuse: This can devastate an older adult’s mental well-being. When subjected to verbal humiliation or insults, their feelings of worthlessness and isolation may increase drastically, leading them toward despair and depression.
  2. 2. Isolation: Abusers may isolate older adults themselves or encourage self-isolation. When isolated from loved ones for prolonged periods, older adults may experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
  3. Physical threats: The dreaded threat of violence or intimidation causes deep-rooted fear in those who experience it. Threats can have long-term psychological effects, like post-traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts.
  4. Neglect: When a caregiver or nursing home fails to provide older adults with food, healthcare, and supervision, they are committing elder abuse, and the premises should be held liable. If this continues, injury, deteriorating health, and death can result.
  5. Financial: Taking or denying an older person their money or property is abuse. This is especially common in conservatorships — in which loved ones are responsible for managing an older adult’s financial situation in response to cognitive or health problems. However, some perpetrators may take advantage of this situation, leaving their older loved one in financial straits.

Again, abusers may use multiple forms of abuse to manipulate older adults. It can also vary in severity, however, just because an older adult may experience a mild case of abuse in comparison to others — it’s still abuse and should be addressed immediately.

Signs of Mental and Emotional Mistreatment in Older Adults

It can be challenging to recognize when older individuals suffer psychological abuse. For one, there may be multiple or mild indicators of psychological distress, which can make it difficult to diagnose. In addition, those affected may feel intimidated to share what is happening. That’s why it’s crucial to be attentive and look for the following signs:

  • Avoidance of specific people or places: If an older person starts avoiding certain family members, caregivers, or close friends, this could indicate mistreatment.
  • Fear, agitation, or confusion: Unexplained anxiety or outbursts may point to emotional harm. These feelings can be triggered and connected to memories of where the abuse occurred.
  • Sudden mood changes: Withdrawal, irritability, and a lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy can occur if psychological abuse regularly takes place.
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss: Mistreatment can lead to decreased appetite, which could cause drastic weight loss. This may also indicate neglect is occurring.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: If their sleep patterns become irregular or they start having trouble sleeping, this is another sign of possible mistreatment.
  • Refusal to talk or make eye contact with a caregiver: Fear of repercussions could lead to a lack of communication with the abuser and loved ones alike.
  • Social withdrawal: Isolation from friends and family often occurs when an elder individual is mentally or emotionally harmed.

Pay attention to these red flags — if you spot them, don’t hesitate to get help. Remember: early prevention is key to protecting your loved one from psychological and physical harm. Contact a lawyer or the police promptly if an older person exhibits these signs.

Risk Factors for Elders

Elder abuse is a serious issue that can affect anyone, regardless of the circumstances. However, certain risk factors may put them at an increased chance of suffering from mistreatment, such as:

  • Physical or mental decline that can affect the ability to understand, make decisions, and communicate, which can leave older adults vulnerable to mistreatment.
  • Mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s or dementia tend to make recognizing maltreatment more difficult. Communicating the abuse may not be possible for some individuals.
  • Socially isolated older adults may be more susceptible to abuse, as they will have no one to turn to for help or to report abusive situations.
  • Dependence on caregivers might be another reason why some victims do not speak out and instead opt to keep their perpetrators a secret despite the abuse they experience.
  • Low-income households are also more prone to elder abuse since economic hardship causes stress and anxiety that can lead to further complications.
  • Alcohol and substance abuse within an older adult can increase the chances of this mistreatment since it can lower their defenses and make them even more vulnerable.
  • Mismanagement of medication or medical care can not only increase the chance of harm and death, but if overmedicated, older adults will not communicate and report the mistreatment.

Multiple risk factors can increase the chances of abuse. Even if the older person has none of these signs, maltreatment can still occur, especially when unsupervised caregivers are responsible for the well-being of older individuals.

Risk Factors for Perpetrators

Family members and caretakers are often some of the main perpetrators of abuse, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other identifying risk factors for abusive behavior can make a perpetrator more susceptible to following through with abuse against an older adult, such as:

  • Substance and alcohol misuse can often make perpetrators irrational, irritable, and angry, leading toward physical and verbal aggression.
  • Poor emotional control can lead to abuse if an abuser becomes impatient.
  • Lack of support from family and other helpers can result in frustration and harm.
  • A history of violence or past criminal activity can make abusers more prone to mistreatment.

Awareness of these red flags can help prevent harm and ensure your loved one is safe. If you suspect a caregiver is abusing their charge, act immediately to protect them from danger. Vice versa, if you’re a caregiver and you suspect an older adult’s relative is causing harm, it’s important to report the abuse immediately.

What To Do if You Suspect Elder Abuse

If you suspect an older person in your life or community is being harmed, take immediate action to help save their life. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Reach out: Speak to the individual and offer a helping hand. Show them they are part of an extended family that cares, ensuring their safety. Explain that they will not be harmed by talking to you. That way, they can speak without fear of punishment.
  • Document: Document any signs of abuse or changes you observe. Gathering evidence of injury is also vital if you need to take legal action.
  • Report: Local law enforcement is an excellent resource for taking action. If you need further advice, contact a lawyer immediately.

Abusing an older adult is an intolerable act, and it’s our moral obligation to prevent such cruelty. Don’t hesitate to take action if you witness any mistreatment or have evidence of abuse. By speaking up, you could be helping save someone’s life.

How To Report Elder Abuse

If someone you know or care for is being harmed, report it immediately to the local authorities in your area. Here are some valuable organizations to contact when you suspect elderly mistreatment:

Local Law Enforcement

If you fear someone may be in imminent danger, act immediately. Calling 911 is the fastest and most reliable route to getting vulnerable folks like elderly people crucial assistance right away. Contacting law enforcement can stop the abuse and keep the perpetrator from continuing the mistreatment.

The National Adult Protective Services Association

From physical abuse to financial exploitation, adult protective services are on the front lines of defending older victims from harm. If you witness or suspect elder mistreatment in your community, contact local Adult Protective Services so that they can help keep them safe and protected.

Eldercare Locator

If you need help finding resources for an older adult in your life, Eldercare Locator is here to lend a hand. This national association helps locate nearby services for the elderly and their families, such as housing, insurance, elder legal rights, and more.

National Center on Elder Abuse

NCEA is a national hub dedicated to providing everyone with the information and resources necessary to help protect older individuals from danger. With their extensive network of experts, they aim to equip anyone with vital tools that enable them to shield elderly loved ones or friends.

Stopping elderly abuse is extremely important, so take advantage of these resources. If you suspect a vulnerable older adult has experienced maltreatment, don’t hesitate to take action.

Seeking Legal Help

In addition to reporting mistreatment, seek legal advice if you have evidence that an individual has been harmed or wronged. If someone you know has been a victim of nursing home abuse, it’s time to contact a lawyer specializing in nursing home abuse.

An experienced attorney can provide invaluable guidance while helping the victim obtain justice through a lawsuit — although special attention must be paid to certain state statute limitations when applicable. Whether you need a Chicago nursing home lawyer or another expert in the field, your legal counsel can help you get justice for an older person who has suffered maltreatment.

(DCD), Digital Communications Division. “How Do I Report Elder Abuse or Abuse of an Older Person or Senior?, 7 Dec. 2017,

Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults: Understanding Gender Differences.HealthLink BC, 8 Mar. 2019,

Devious Damage: Elder Psychological Abuse,

Elder Abuse.National Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,

Ilie, Adina Carmen, et al. “The Psychological Abuse of the Elderly – a Silent Factor of Cardiac Decompensation.Maedica, EDITORIAL POINT OF VIEW, June 2017,

Risk and Protective Factors|Elder Abuse|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 May 2020,

rural_and_tribal_statistics_and_research.Pdf.The United States Department of Justice,


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