Emotional Abuse

Of all the types of elder abuse, emotional and psychological abuse may be the most common and pervasive problem. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is also the most difficult to track and often goes unreported, so experts are not sure how many individuals suffer from it or how often it is experienced.

Unlike elder sexual abuse or financial exploitation, acts of emotional abuse are not always obviously criminal in nature. Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse does not leave physical markings or evidence. This type of abuse often can be invisible meaning that professionals and other residents may have no idea it is occurring if they do not witness it firsthand in the nursing home.

Despite our gaps in knowledge, there is some information we do have about elder abuse:

  • At least 2.5 million Americans suffer from elder abuse
  • 1 in 10 senior citizens has been abused in the last year
  • 1 in 3 nursing home residents report that they have suffered elder abuse

Examples of Emotional Abuse

When an individual acts in a way that causes emotional pain and suffering to an elderly person, it is emotional abuse. The emotional anguish of the elderly person can present itself in many different ways such as agitation, nervousness, fear, or sadness. Acts of emotional abuse can be intentional, but they can also be unintentional when the abuser is overly stressed and unknowingly lashing out or harming the elderly person. Emotional abuse can be both verbal and nonverbal in nature.

Verbal abuse is a type of emotional abuse that is very easy to identify if you are nearby when it is happening. It is characterized by verbal harassment, yelling, or emotional manipulation that the abuser inflicts on the elderly. In nursing homes, abusive caregivers must be reported immediately. They may be committing abuse because they are stressed, depressed, or suffering from other problems. Though some nursing home caregivers may be unintentionally harming the patients, their behavior is unacceptable and dangerous. Some examples of verbal abuse include:

  • Yelling, shouting, and screaming
  • Threatening and pretending to harm the patient
  • Intimidation
  • Name-calling, insulting, and ridiculing the patient
  • Talking to the patient as if he were a child
  • Embarrassing the patient in front of others
  • Making the patient feel guilty or upset
  • Withdrawing affection or being callous and mean
  • Scapegoating and blaming

Nonverbal Abuse is another form of emotional abuse. Though nonverbal emotional abuse is harder to spot, it is just as serious as the verbal kind. Nonverbal abuse can make elderly patients feel isolated, helpless, and afraid. After witnessing this abuse once, you may not notice that abuse is occurring, but the repetitive nature of this type of abuse can cause serious psychological and emotional damage to a nursing home resident. Nonverbal forms of abuse include:

  • Giving a patient the silent treatment
  • Terrorizing and pretending to cause physical harm
  • Ignoring the person
  • Isolating him from others
  • Prohibiting the patient from talking to others or going outside
  • Restricting access to food, water, or the bathroom
  • Treating the patient as if he were a child
  • Taking away personal items or hiding them

Preventing Emotional Abuse

If a loved one is living in a nursing home, it can be very difficult to prevent emotional abuse. If you believe that emotional abuse is occurring, you should remove the elderly person from the facility and relocate them to a safer environment.

If you are taking care of an elderly person, you must always be mindful and careful so as not to inflict emotional abuse. Pay attention to the elderly person and how they are feeling and reacting to your care. You should also be mindful of your own emotions and stress levels, and prevent your personal feelings from affecting how you treat your family member or patient.


“Elder Abuse.” Allina Health. Allina Health System. Web. 26 May 2013.http://www.allinahealth.org/mdex/ND7367G.HTM

“Elder Abuse.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. Web. 26 May 2013.http://www.apa.org/pi/prevent-violence/resources/elder-abuse.asp&xgt

“Elderly Abuse Statistics.” Statistic Brain. National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 12 Septe 2012. Web. 26 May 2013. http://www.statisticbrain.com/elderly-abuse-statistics/