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Psychological Abuse of the Elderly for Family Members and Carers


What is psychological abuse of the elderly?

Psychological or emotional abuse occurs when a carer causes emotional pain or stress for an elder. A carer may be a family member or a person who is responsible for taking caring of him. The carer may insult, threaten, humiliate, or harass him through words or actions. He may also ignore the elder or isolate him from family members, friends, or daily activities. His rights may be ignored, limited, or taken from him even if he can think and act for himself. Psychological abuse can happen in the elder's home, the carer's home, or a facility, such as a nursing home.

What increases the risk of psychological abuse of the elderly?

The exact cause of psychological abuse is not known. The following may increase an elder's risk of psychological abuse:

  • He is older than 75 years.
  • He has learning or memory problems.
  • He has a long-term condition, such as dementia, diabetes, paralysis, or stroke.
  • He has no relatives or friends who can take care of him.
  • He has difficulty getting along with others.
  • The carer depends heavily on the elder for things such as money or housing.
  • The carer drinks alcohol or uses illegal drugs.
  • The carer has a personality disorder, depression, or another mental illness.
  • The carer has a history of family violence, such as physical or sexual abuse.
  • The carer has stress due to work, taking care of the elder, or financial problems.

What are the signs and symptoms of psychological abuse of the elderly?

The elder may be or have any of the following:

  • Often disturbed, scared, or hopeless
  • Avoiding eye contact or not talking openly
  • Anxious, shy, depressed, or withdrawn
  • Low self-esteem
  • Desire to hurt himself or other people
  • Sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns or moods
  • Kept inside the house and not allowed to have other people call or visit him
  • Not allowed to do his daily activities
  • Prevented from deciding or acting for himself

How is psychological abuse of the elderly diagnosed?

The elder's healthcare provider will ask about his health. The healthcare provider may ask how his carer speaks to him and treats him. He may also ask about how the carer takes care of him each day.

How is psychological abuse of the elderly treated?

An elder who has been psychologically abused may be placed in an adult day care. Special services may be offered to ensure an elder's safety and health. Treatment may also include any of the following:

  • Counseling: Psychological abuse may cause the elder to feel scared, depressed, or anxious. His healthcare provider may suggest that he see a counselor to talk about how he is feeling.
  • Medicines: Healthcare providers may give medicines to calm, relax, or help the elder sleep. Other medicines may also be given if he has any medical conditions.

What are the risks of psychological abuse of the elderly?

If left untreated, the elder may develop serious health and emotional problems. He may also become depressed.

How can I help the elder?

  • Report psychological abuse: It may be hard to report psychological abuse, but it is very important. Healthcare providers can help the elder if he is at risk for or is a victim of psychological abuse.
  • Attend follow-up visits with the elder: The elder's healthcare provider may talk to you, the elder, his family, friends, or those who should be held responsible for psychological abuse. This includes what may happen if psychological abuse does not stop.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Center on Elder Abuse
    c/o University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine
    Alhambra , CA 91803
    Phone: 1- 855 - 500-3537
    Web Address:

When should I contact the elder's healthcare provider?

  • He has problems sleeping.
  • He cannot get to his next office visit.
  • He has new signs and symptoms.
  • You or the elder has questions or concerns about his condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care for the elder or call 911?

  • He feels like hurting himself or someone else.
  • He feels that he cannot cope with his condition or his recovery from it.
  • He has shortness of breath, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

Care Agreement

The elder victim has the right to help plan his own care. To help with this plan, he must learn about his condition or situation. He can then discuss options with his healthcare providers. Working with them will help to decide what actions will be taken, and what care and treatment will be given. The victim always has the right to refuse actions or treatment.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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