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Emotional Abuse: An Under-Reported Menace in Nursing Homes

When an elderly nursing home resident is physically or sexually abused or financially exploited, it usually leaves some physical evidence that a careful observer will notice. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, leaves no bruising, welts, or any physical signs of damage. The harm is psychological and invisible, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

Difficulties Identifying Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse of elderly residents in nursing homes often goes unreported, largely due to the fact that it is much more subtle than physical abuse. In addition, emotional abuse is harder to explain in a courtroom because there are few laws that charge it as a criminal action, particularly since the evidence is psychological and leaves no visible marks. If a staff member or visitor is emotionally abusing a resident, no one other than the abuser and the victim who hasn’t witnessed the abuse is likely to know unless you know the signs to watch out for.

What Are the Signs?

Signs of emotional abuse may not be obvious at first, but as the abuse continues, indicators may start to appear, such as:

  • Sudden changes in behavior or personality
  • Withdrawal and depression
  • Nervousness or fear
  • Agitation
  • Refusal to speak or interact with others
  • Unusual behavior, such as rocking back and forth, sucking, or biting
  • Loss of appetite or outright refusal to eat
  • Sudden weight loss or malnutrition
  • Refusal of medication or treatment
  • Insomnia or fatigue
  • Greater susceptibility to injuries and infections

The signs of emotional abuse will also reflect the psychological injuries that the victims are suffering from. Some residents will become more timid, depressed, and withdrawn, while others may become more agitated and aggressive. Emotional abuse can cause stress, loss of appetite, and lack of sleep. This can weaken an elderly person’s immune system, making him or her more susceptible to illness.

Isolation and Age Play a Factor

Abusers often target victims who they can easily manipulate without being caught, which is easier to do as a resident gets older. The older the resident, the more likely they are going to feel isolated within the nursing home and less likely to report abuse. Victims may also suffer from dementia, which makes it even harder to report and identify. Residents who need consistent care due to illnesses or age may also be seen as burdens to abusers, who will then use that illness as an excuse to abuse a resident. Illnesses may also cause a resident to be isolated, which makes them more vulnerable.

Responding to Emotional Abuse

If you suspect your loved one is being emotionally abused in a nursing home, they should be removed from that facility and relocated to a better environment. Once they are safe, immediately report the abuse to the authorities, including the New Mexico Ombudsman at 1-866-451-2901. If a staff member is involved, a report should also be made to the nursing home administration.

Your next step is to discuss the matter with an experienced lawyer. Our New Mexico nursing home abuse attorneys have an in-depth understanding these tragic situations that allows them to advocate for full compensation on your loved one’s behalf. Call Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP at (903) 207-5526 to schedule a free consultation.