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Warning Signs Your Loved One Is Being Psychologically Abused


Some abuse is very easy to spot. You might visit an elderly relative in a nursing home or at another facility and see unexplained bruises, cuts, or broken bones. However, the elderly are increasingly at risk of psychological abuse as well. This abuse is much harder to identify; nevertheless, you must take action at the first sign of it.

Forms of Psychological Abuse

Caregivers frequently bully or torment the elderly in their care. Their abuse can take many forms, but includes:

  • Belittling comments
  • Offensive speech
  • Ignoring the elderly person
  • Intimidation
  • Threatening gestures or language
  • Harassment
  • Treating the elderly like they are a baby
  • Isolating the elderly from other people

Another form of psychological abuse is prescribing mood-altering drugs as a way of managing or restraining the elderly charge. This type of “chemical restraint” has been a huge problem in the past, especially in Florida. According to a study in 2010, about 70% of Medicaid residents in Florida nursing homes received psychoactive medication though few had taken any before admission. Although the incidence of chemical restraint has fallen in recent years, it still remains a problem.

Signs of Psychological Abuse

When visiting a loved one, you should always be on the lookout for signs of psychological abuse. Remember not to assume that only professional caregivers, like nursing homes or at-home attendants, abuse elderly. That is certainly the case. However, a loved one’s own family members can also abuse their elderly relatives.

The following are common signs that your loved one is being psychologically abused:

  • Shyness or being withdrawn
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Lack of interest in hobbies
  • Sudden anger or sadness without adequate explanation
  • Self-harm, such as cutting themselves
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Feelings of powerlessness

Do not depend on your loved one telling you about the abuse. Often, the elderly are too embarrassed or ashamed of the abuse to speak up and instead choose to suffer in silence. They might also be afraid of the abusive caregiver and refuse to risk their wrath by saying anything.

Taking Action

If you notice signs of psychological abuse, do not wait for someone else to intervene. Instead, proactively address the issue and remove the elderly person from the environment, if necessary.

If the abuse has taken place in a nursing home, speak to management. There might be a formal complaint process you can take. Follow up to make sure that the nursing home has reassigned the abusive employee. If you are still unhappy with the nursing home’s response, you can complain to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration by completing a complaint form.

If a family member is abusing your loved one, speak to an elder law attorney about what steps to take. If the abuse is particularly serious, you might need to involve the police. You might also want to seek guardianship of your loved one. Each situation is different, so meeting with an experienced attorney is critical to evaluating all of your options.

Caring Elder Law Attorneys in Florida

At the Millhorn Law Elder Planning Group in the Villages, our team has helped family members deal with psychological and other abuse of their loved ones. We can investigate the abuse and come up with a strategy for protecting your loved one’s safety and legal rights.




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