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Emotional Abuse in California Nursing Homes

When most think of “nursing home abuse,” the first thing that comes to mind is physical elder abuse. But the range of elder abuse is much more extensive, encompassing emotional abuse as well as physical abuse. While emotional elder abuse is thought to be the most common form of elder abuse, it is also the most difficult to detect, as it is rarely, if ever, accompanied by physical evidence. It is nonetheless extremely damaging to the mental health of its victims, resulting in a lower quality of life and, in some cases contributing to declines in physical health. Below, a California nursing home abuse attorney explains what emotional abuse is and how to spot it. 

Examples of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse occurs when a caregiver causes the victim to suffer emotional pain or distress. It encompasses an extraordinarily wide range of behaviors of both verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Some of the most common forms of emotional abuse in nursing homes include: 

  • Yelling, shouting, or screaming at the victim
  • Mocking, humiliating, or ridiculing the victim
  • Intimidating and threatening the victim
  • Isolating the victim from family and friends
  • Terrorizing or menacing the victim
  • Scapegoating or blaming the victim
  • Embarrassing the victim in front of others
  • Causing the victim to question his or her sanity
  • Treating the victim like a child

It is not always clear why emotional abuse occurs or why abusers target particular victims. In some cases, the abuse may be unintentional, such as when a facility is understaffed and caregivers are overworked. In other cases, the abuse may be intentional, such as when the abuser derives pleasure from preying on the weak or uses emotional abuse tactics to coerce the victim into signing over her assets to the abuser. 

Nonverbal Mental Abuse

Emotional abuse is most commonly perpetrated verbally through insulting, teasing, berating, humiliating, or yelling at the victim, among other behaviors. A less common — but no less damaging — form of emotional abuse is the nonverbal variety. Nonverbal mental abuse occurs when the perpetrator mentally abuses the victim without engaging in any of the aforementioned behaviors. Rather, the perpetrator engages in more subtle behavior that is designed to achieve the same ends as verbal mental abuse.

Some examples of nonverbal mental abuse in nursing homes include:

  • Giving the resident the silent treatment
  • Isolating the resident from friends, family, and other residents
  • Prohibiting the resident from engaging in communal activities
  • Ignoring the resident’s calls for assistance
  • Giving the resident scary or threatening looks
  • Using intimidating or threatening body language when in the resident’s vicinity
  • Moving items out of the resident’s reach, including essential items such as eyeglasses, wheelchairs, canes, walkers, and medications
  • Hiding the resident’s belongings or moving them from their usual places
  • Limiting the resident’s access to food, water, and the bathroom
  • Treating the resident as if he or she were a child
  • Disconnecting the resident’s phone, television, or radio
  • Locking the resident out of his or her electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and computers

These behaviors can cause residents immense stress and anxiety. In some cases, they may even cause a resident to question his or her sanity. If you believe that someone you care about may be suffering nonverbal mental abuse in a nursing home, your best bet is to seek the help of a California nursing home abuse attorney.

Four Things To Know About Nursing Home Emotional Abuse

Below are four important things you should know about nursing home emotional abuse.

1. Emotional Abuse Can Cause Physical Harm

Severe and long-term emotional abuse can cause physical harm. The stress and anxiety caused by such abuse often results in malnutrition, insomnia, depression, hives, hair loss, and suicidal thoughts.

2. Emotional Abuse Can Be Difficult To Recognize

Emotional abuse typically does not leave evidence on the victim’s body the way physical abuse can. As such, it can be difficult to identify. A few red flags that emotional abuse is occurring include abrupt changes in demeanor, sudden weight loss, unexplained fear, withdrawal from regular activities, and changes in sleep patterns.

3. Seniors With Dementia Are Particularly Vulnerable to Emotional Abuse

Seniors with dementia are common targets for a wide range of abusive behaviors in nursing homes, including emotional abuse. Many perpetrators may feel that it is easier to get away with abusing a resident with dementia because the patient may be nonverbal or may not remember what happened clearly. It can also be more difficult to identify the red flags of emotional abuse in dementia patients, as some of those symptoms may be attributable to dementia itself.

4. The Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Abuse Claims in California Is Two Years

Most lawsuits against nursing homes alleging abuse must be filed within two years of the date of the alleged abuse. This is a fairly short window. If you are considering taking legal action against a nursing home for abuse, a California nursing home abuse attorney can help you ensure that you file your case before the statute of limitations runs.

Red Flags that Emotional Abuse May Be Occurring in a California Nursing Home or Assisted Living Facility 

Everyone responds to emotional abuse differently. Some individuals have so-called “thick skins” and can either tune out emotional abuse or put a stop to it themselves. Other individuals, such as those with low self-esteem, insecurities, or pre-existing mental health conditions, are more vulnerable to emotional abuse. Each person also shows different symptoms, making it difficult for loved ones to determine whether and when emotional abuse is occurring. However, there are a few common red flags that emotional abuse may be occurring, such as: 

  • The victim is shy, withdrawn, or otherwise “not herself” 
  • The victim is afraid to speak in the presence of a particular staff member
  • The victim exhibits sudden changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • The victim avoids eye contact when talking to friends and family 
  • Sudden and unexplained personality changes 
  • Fearfulness when visitors prepare to depart

If you suspect that someone you love is suffering emotional abuse in a nursing home, please contact a California nursing home abuse attorney who can help you investigate and prevent further harm. 

Contact the Elder Care and Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers at the Evans Law Firm 

Emotional abuse can result in a severely diminished quality of life and shortened lifespan. If you suspect that someone you love is suffering emotional abuse in a nursing home, please contact a California nursing home abuse attorney at Evans Law Firm by using our online form or calling us at 415-441-8669. 

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