Emotional abuse in nursing homes

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There are more than 1.4 million Americans living in nursing homes today, according to the CDC.  More than 80 percent are aged 65 and older and many need extra medical care and help with some aspect of day-to-day living. While many nursing facilities offer exemplary care and well-trained staff, the unfortunate reality is that too many residents will suffer from a type of neglect that leaves no physical signs and can be hard to detect: emotional or psychological abuse.

Emotional or psychological abuse is the infliction of mental suffering, anguish, pain, or distress on a nursing home resident either by words, actions, or even inaction.  Because emotional abuse causes harm to how a person thinks or feels, there are many ways for an abuser to harm a resident that can be difficult to discover.

Here are some common forms of emotional abuse:

●     Threats of physical harm;

●     Verbal intimidation(i.e. making a resident’s decisions against their will);

●     Unnecessary shouting;

●     Threats of institutionalization or taking away privileges;

●     Threats of or actual isolation;

●     Refusing the communicate with or listen to with a resident;

●     Talking-down to a resident (i.e. “baby talk”, or “talking at” someone instead of “talking with” them);

●     Suggestions that the resident deserves to be treated badly, is not loved or deserves to have their privileges taken away.

Warning signs of emotional abuse include, but are not limited to:

●     Agitation or being upset;

●     Withdrawing from social situations, or refusing to talk with or respond to others;

●     Uncharacteristic behavior (e.g. thumb-sucking, nail-biting, rocking back-and-forth, or acting “not like themselves”);

●     Relating stories about mistreatment, either verbally or physically;

●     Reports/incidents where a caregiver or staff members isolate or coerces/controls a resident;

●     Inexplicable changes in eating or sleeping habits; or

●     Unexplained personality changes.

If suspect you or a loved one has experienced nursing home negligence or emotional abuse, there are people that you can call for help. If there is an immediate danger, always call 9-1-1. If not, call a trusted friend or decision-maker, like a doctor or an attorney, or the Elder Abuse Hotline for your state.


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