Emotional and Psychological Abuse in Nursing Homes

Emotional abuse in a nursing home can be among the hardest forms of abuse to detect, since it leaves no physical marks or scars.  However, emotional abuse can be one of the most harmful types of nursing home mistreatment.  Emotional abuse can have a significant negative effect on a resident’s health, happiness, and overall quality of life.  It is important for friends and family members to know what emotional abuse in a nursing home entails and to be vigilant for any red flags.

Many nursing home residents cannot properly care for themselves and perform basic functions without the aid of another person.  This can lead to low self-esteem and place the resident in an especially vulnerable position, highly susceptible to emotional abuse.

There are several types of emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse.  In nursing homes, emotional abuse can take the form of verbal degradation, verbal threats, emotional manipulation, emotional threats, and isolation.

An important part of a nursing home caretaker’s job is to offer kind words and encouragement at a time when residents are vulnerable and need support the most.  Unfortunately, a number of staff members use verbal degradation, including screaming and yelling at some patients for a variety of reasons.  Some staff members may use sarcasm and insults if residents are unable to control bodily functions or perform other basic tasks.  Sometimes, overworked or impatient staff members use harsh words or ridicule to intimidate residents into performing certain tasks more quickly, like eating, washing, or walking from place to place.

Verbal threats are more severe than verbal degradation and involve threats to intimidate the resident into acting a certain way.  This can include a staff member telling a resident that they will be hit, not fed, or not allowed to see family if they wet their bed, eat too sloppily, refuse to eat, or in any other way make more work for the staff.

Another form of emotional abuse occurs when a staff member manipulates a resident for the staff member’s own benefit.  Nursing home staff may emotionally manipulate residents into refraining from “being difficult” or overlooking other forms of abuse within the home.  For example, through threats and punishment, staff may intimidate residents into not acting in ways that make more work for the staff, like asking to be turned over in their beds, requesting a drink of water, or to be taken to the bathroom.  This can lead to several dangerous consequences for the resident like developing bedsores, sepsis, urinary infections, dehydration or malnutrition.

Emotional threats involve bullying a resident into keeping quiet and not complaining to family or supervisors.  This can happen when one resident witnesses abuse of other residents or when the resident himself is being abused.  This results in non-reporting of instances of nursing home abuse, often times with significant physical injuries and harm.

Isolation is also a form of nursing home emotional abuse.  Isolation involves staff not speaking to the resident or refusing to give them attention.  Isolation can also happen when staff fails to provide adequate assistance so that the resident can participate in social activities within the home.  Isolation can even included attempts to cut the resident off from family and the support that comes with it.

Warning signs of emotional abuse include depression, withdrawal, anxiety, and agitation.  Many victims of emotional abuse also become unresponsive and want to be left alone.  At other times, the resident may exhibit aggressive or insulting behavior towards family and friends.

If you suspect emotional abuse in a nursing home, you should first make sure your loved one is safe.  If necessary, contact the appropriate authorities.   Then you should contact an experienced attorney.  There are a number of important requirements and deadlines on nursing home claims.  It is important to take action immediately to both protect your loved one and your loved one‘s legal rights to recovery.


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