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Effects of Emotional Abuse

When an elderly person suddenly has a black eye or other physical injury, the abuse is obvious and impossible to ignore. Recognizing the effects of emotional abuse is much more difficult. Because of that, the emotional abuse of elderly patients is less understood and not measured as accurately as other types of elder abuse.

Recognizing elder abuse and preventing it requires a multipronged and interdisciplinary approach. Families, friends, physicians, and caregivers must work together to identify when this abuse is occurring, who is inflicting the abuse, and how make it stop. With a better understanding of some of the effects of emotional abuse, all parties can do a better job stopping it from happening.

Psychological Effects of Emotional Abuse

Most of the effects of emotional abuse are psychological. Noticing one or two of these changes by themselves does not necessarily signal abuse. There will always the chance that the nursing home resident is feeling uncomfortable in the facility or is depressed for other reasons.

However, if you notice several changes in behavior and mood, it suggests that the individual is suffering from recurring acts of abuse. In general, you should always speak to a nursing home resident and ask them about their emotional state, especially if you notice that they are acting or behaving differently. There are many psychological effects of emotional abuse such as:

  • Depression and withdrawal
  • Excessive fear and anxiety
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Agitation and frustration
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Loss of interest and enthusiasm
  • Low self esteem
  • Passivity and non-communicative behavior
  • Changes in behavior or personality

Other Effects of Emotional Abuse

The damage from emotional abuse will also be apparent in behavioral changes in the patient. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if these changes are due to emotional distress or physical illness, so you will have to monitor the situation closely and investigate.

These effects of emotional abuse are very dangerous because they can often lead to serious health problems and general decline in health and wellness. For example, sleep deprivation and loss of appetite is particularly dangerous for those who are very old or already ill and can cause health to worsen. It can also be difficult to understand the true cause of these changes if the patient is also suffering from dementia or other mental disorders. Some of the behavioral and physical effects of emotional abuse include:

  • Insomnia and lack of sleep
  • Weight loss and malnutrition
  • Refusal to see or talk to others
  • Refusal to eat, drink, or take medication
  • Strange behavior such as sucking, biting, or rocking
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Low energy, physical activity, and responsiveness

Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse

Because emotional abuse is so difficult to spot, and because many of its effects could be caused by other factors besides abuse, caregivers and family members must be able to spot the warning signs that suggest abuse is occurring. Many of these warning signs only occur when the abused patient is interacting with the abuser, so you should try to observe situations when both people are together.

Here are some behaviors and actions that you should look out for:

  • Nervousness or cowering in presence of abuser
  • Aggression or tension when both people are together
  • Abrupt change in mood when abuser enters the room
  • Refusal to let you see or talk to patient alone
  • Isolating the patient from family and other residents
  • Basic hygiene or basic care is not being provided
  • Contradictory statements about behavior or injury
  • Treating the elderly patient like a child

If you notice several symptoms of abuse as well as warning signs, you should investigate immediately. If abuse is occurring, you should remove the patient from the abusive situation and report the abuser to the authorities.


“Elder Abuse: Consequences.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Jan 2014. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/consequences.html>.

“Elder Abuse.” National Institute on Aging. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Feb 2014. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/elder-abuse>.

“Statistics/Data.” National Center on Elder Abuse. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Library/Data/index.asp&xgt;.



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