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Psychological Abuse of the Elderly

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is psychological abuse of the elderly?

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

What causes psychological abuse of the elderly?

The exact cause of psychological abuse is not known. The following may increase your risk of psychological abuse:

  • You are older than 75 years.
  • You have learning or memory problems.
  • You have a long-term condition, such as dementia, diabetes, paralysis, or stroke.
  • You have no relatives or friends who can take care of you.
  • You have difficulty getting along with others.
  • The carer depends heavily on you 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 you, or financial problems.

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

Healthcare providers will ask you, your family, or friends if you are or have any of the following:

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  • Anxious, shy, depressed, or withdrawn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

How is psychological abuse of the elderly diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health. He may ask you questions about how your carer speaks to you and treats you. He may also ask you questions about how the carer takes care of you each day.

How is psychological abuse of the elderly treated?

You may be placed in another setting, such as an adult day care. Special services may be offered to ensure your safety and health.

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

What are the risks of psychological abuse of the elderly?

If left untreated, you may develop serious health and emotional problems. You may also become depressed.

How can I help myself?

  • Report psychological abuse: It may be hard to report psychological abuse, but it is very important. Healthcare providers can help you if you are at risk for or are a victim of psychological abuse.
  • Go to follow-up visits: Your healthcare provider may talk to you, your family, friends, or those who should be held responsible for psychological abuse. This may include 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 my healthcare provider?

  • You have problems sleeping.
  • You cannot get to your next office visit.
  • You have new signs and symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.
  • You feel that you cannot cope with your condition or your recovery from it.
  • You have shortness of breath, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse 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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Further information

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