Emotional abuse occurs when one person causes emotional trauma to another through nonphysical means. The abuse can be verbal or nonverbal and uses power and control to isolate and intimidate.
Nursing home staff occupy a powerful position as it relates to nursing home residents. Residents rely on staff for basic needs like water, food, and medicine. We entrust the care of our loved ones to virtual strangers and expect them to receive the best possible care. However, that is not always the case.
Here we outline some types of abuse and signs to look for when visiting your loved ones in the nursing home or their assisted living facility.
Types of Emotional Elder Abuse
Although these examples aren’t a complete list of ways emotional abuse can be inflicted, they do highlight common cases.
- Yelling at residents
- Isolating an elder from family and social activities
- Mocking, shaming, or insulting a resident in front of others
- Threatening physical harm
- Ignoring concerns
- Intentionally withholding basic needs and care
- The silent treatment
- Placing assistive devices (e.g., wheelchairs, canes, etc.) out of reach
This abuse can be intentional because the abuser wants to cause harm. It may also be unintentional because the abuser is overworked and stressed and lashes out uncharacteristically. But intent doesn’t matter. The pain and psychological abuse are still present.
Warning Signs and How to Identify Victims
If your loved one exhibits any of these signs, it could indicate emotional abuse.
- Cowering when the abuser is near
- Avoiding eye contact with the abuser
- Hesitation to talk openly
- Sudden changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Confusion unrelated to any health issue
Exhibiting any one of these signs doesn’t mean abuse is happening. However, you should pay attention to your loved ones and their surroundings. Ask questions and investigate; all warning signs should be taken seriously.
Signs exhibited by your loved one are not the only way to detect abuse. Staff can also display signs of abusive behavior. Pay attention to the facility and staff, especially if they:
- Are exhausted or sluggish in appearance
- Demonstrate poor treatment of residents in front of you
- Have unusual phone and visitation restrictions
- Display aggressive reactions when questioned about your loved one
Those signals are difficult to miss, but also watch for more subtle signs, such as:
- One staff member exclusively takes care of your loved one. This may appear harmless, but they could possess too much control.
- Fake empathy or exaggerated concern. Pay attention to body language and reactions that seem suspicious.
- Lack of concern. This may not be intentional. But if your loved one’s concerns are not taken seriously, it can lead to further physical, mental, and emotional decline.
- History of abuse. Gain as much info on the facility and staff as possible before entrusting them with your loved one’s well-being.
What to Do if You Suspect Emotional Elder Abuse
Alabama’s Adult Protective Services (APS) Division data shows 9,407 adult abuse, neglect, and exploitation reports in 2021. If you suspect abuse, speak with the management of the facility. Contact The Alabama Department of Human Resources if they do not adequately address your concerns. If you feel they are in immediate danger, contact local law enforcement. Report the abuse as quickly as possible to get your concerns on record. This is especially critical if your loved one has memory loss and difficulty remembering specific circumstances. Keep personal records of all incidents.
Suing Someone for Emotional Elder Abuse
Discovering someone you love has been abused and suffered harm at the hands of another can be challenging to accept. You may feel responsible for missing the signs, but it is not your fault.
Consult an experienced attorney; they will investigate and take appropriate action to ensure the responsible party is held accountable. Negligence and abuse in medical facilities are complex issues. Get legal representation as soon as possible.
If you suspect a loved one has been the victim of neglect or nursing home abuse, contact the law office of Timberlake & League. We can help.