It's difficult to make the decision to put a parent in a nursing home. You probably did a lot of research to find a clean, comfortable home for them to live in, where they can receive the round-the-clock nursing care they need.
And now, you visit regularly and you keep a close eye on how your parent is doing. You know that physical abuse can happen in nursing home settings, so you check carefully for scratches, bruises or bumps at every visit. What's more, the care your parent is receiving -- along with what you see of the other residents -- seems to be top notch. Employees are pleasant, the home is clean and most residents seem to be comfortable.
But your parent is showing signs of becoming withdrawn and depressed. They don't want to be at the nursing home any more and beg you to move them or let them come home with you. It's heartbreaking, but is this just one of the issues that comes along with being elderly and ill or is something more going on?
How to Identify Emotional Abuse or Neglect
Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse is much more difficult to identify. Some of the signs you might find in the nursing home setting include:
- Humiliating the patient or not providing privacy. The abuser constantly belittles the patient or leaves them exposed in front of others.
- Threatening to remove care. The abuser says that they won't take care of basic needs and suggest they will punish through neglect or abandonment.
- Distancing the patient from others. An emotional abuser may suggest that family members don't want to be burdened with the patient's care or don't care about the patient any longer.
But in order to qualify as true emotional abuse, the abusive behavior must be ongoing and calculated. In other words, if a caretaker gets frustrated one time and raises their voice at a nursing home patient, that is a mistake -- not emotional abuse.
The Impact of Emotional Abuse
Whether abuse is physical or emotional, abuse can take its toll on an elderly person's health. Most nursing home residents are not in the best of health to begin with, but abuse can create a 300 percent higher risk of death.
Abused nursing home residents are also unable to enjoy their last years because of the psychological distress inflicted on them. This can manifest itself physically through headaches, depression, increased blood pressure and other signs of stress, which have a greater impact on a compromised older adult than on a healthy person.
What You Can Do About Emotional Abuse
First, know that you're not alone. Emotional abuse is the most common type of elder abuse, making up more than 54 percent of cases.
The best way to counter emotional abuse is to work with your parent to document all incidents of abuse, whether from one employee or throughout the institution.
Once you have documented several instances of emotional abuse, talk to a nursing home lawyer about whether you have a case. Medical malpractice, for example, generally extends to physical abuse and neglect, but there are some instances where a suit can be brought based on emotional abuse. For example, if your parent is being left without proper clothing, not given privacy during toileting or bathing, or not being provided with care as a punishment, you may be able to prove malpractice.
Finally, see if you can move your parent so they aren't served by the abusing employee. You may need to provide your documentation to nursing home administration to prove that there is an issue. It may be necessary to move to a new facility to completely eliminate the source of the abuse.