Take Our Survey, Get Answers

Psychological Abuse

One common form of emotional abuse inflicted on the elderly is psychological abuse. Psychological abuse can be verbal or nonverbal and consists of any action that causes the patient emotional harm or anguish. Though a lot of the psychological abuse in nursing homes is inflicted by the nursing home staff, other residents are also capable of psychological abuse. Psychological abuse of the elderly is very dangerous because it can cause lasting emotional damage and even contribute to the decline of physical health.

What Is Psychological Abuse?

When nursing facility staff inflicts psychological abuse, it causes elderly residents to feel extreme sadness, fear, and anxiety. Psychological abuse can be more difficult to observe than physical abuse. In addition, because some types of psychological abuse are nonverbal, they may be very subtle and hard to notice. Often psychological abuse is inflicted at the same time as other forms of abuse that cause a resident to feel helpless and depressed. Some types of psychological abuse include:

  • Intimidation and threatening a patient
  • Ridiculing and insulting a patient
  • Making a patient feel guilty or distressed
  • Yelling or shouting at a patient

Some nonverbal forms of psychological abuse are:

  • Ignoring a patient or giving them the silent treatment
  • Isolating them from friends or family
  • Preventing them from participating in social activities
  • Terrorizing or menacing the patient
  • Threatening to withhold food or water

What Are the Signs of Psychological Abuse?

As mentioned, psychological abuse is a more subtle form of abuse than physical abuse. The signs of psychological abuse can be difficult to spot at first. As the abuse progresses, the resident may start exhibiting several indicators of psychological abuse, and it should become very clear that something is wrong. Typically, psychological abuse will cause a person to become more timid, withdrawn, and depressed. However, some people may react oppositely and may become more agitated and aggressive after being abused.

Some Indicators of Psychological Abuse:

  • Depression and withdrawal
  • Refusal to interact or speak with others
  • Sudden change in personality or behavior
  • Agitation
  • Excessive fear or nervousness
  • Unusual behavior such as sucking, biting, or rocking

As the effects of psychological abuse worsen, it may start to have serious consequences for the victim’s health. If the victim is feeling depressed, he may feel excessively stressed or lose his appetite. These effects may weaken his immune system and make him more susceptible to illness. Some other physical indicators of psychological abuse are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of sleep or insomnia
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Refusal to eat or take medications
  • Increased vulnerability to injury and infection

What Are the Risk Factors for Psychological Abuse?

Whether the elderly person lives with family or in a nursing home, there is a high risk of psychological abuse. Certain characteristics of the individual and the caregiver situation will increase the risk factors of abuse. For example, if the caregiver suffers from depression, has financial problems, or struggles with drug addiction, the risk of inflicting abuse is higher. Other risk factors for the abuser are if he has less medical training or is working in an understaffed nursing home. These characteristics also increase the risk of abuse.

In the same way, the age and health of the nursing home resident affects the risk of psychological abuse. Residents who are more vulnerable or who require more care are more likely to be abused. The older the resident is, the higher the risk of abuse. In addition, if the resident is suffering from severe memory impairment or cognitive problems, the risk of abuse also increases.

What Do I Do If I Suspect Abuse?

If you believe psychological abuse is occurring, you should remove the patient from the facility or report the staff member who is causing them harm. You should then report the abuse to the authorities.


“Elder Abuse and Neglect.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, n.d. Web. 16 Feb 2014. <http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/elder-abuse.asp&xgt;.

“Emotional and Psychological Trauma.” HelpGuide.org. HelpGuide.org, n.d. Web. 16 Feb 2014. <http://www.helpguide.org/mental/emotional_psychological_trauma.htm>.

The Meyer Law Firm, P.C., 9235 Katy Freeway, Suite 160, Houston, Texas 77024. THE FIRM MAINTAINS ITS PRINCIPAL OFFICE IN HOUSTON, TEXAS. Attorney Jeff Meyer is responsible for the content of this site and is licensed in Texas and California. ALTHOUGH THE MEYER LAW FIRM WILL MAINTAIN JOINT RESPONSIBILITY THROUGHOUT THE REPRESENTATION, CASES WILL LIKELY BE REFERRED TO OTHER LAWYERS AND LAW FIRMS FOR PRINCIPAL RESPONSIBILITY. Once you become a client of the firm, which only occurs if there is a signed, written agreement between both the client and the firm, information regarding your claim may be transmitted electronically in compliance with HIPAA and Texas House Bill 300. Use of this site is subject to the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy. If you contact The Meyer Law Firm, you consent to be contacted by text, email, phone or fax or any other means of communication. No attorney-client relationship is created by one’s use of this website.