As awful as it sounds, physical abuse is easier to identify and treat than some of the more insidious and hidden types of abuse that can be heaped on helpless elders. With emotional or other types of psychological abuse, not only are no visible effects like bruises or broken bones present, but often the signs of other illnesses can mask the patient’s true condition.
What Are Some Symptoms of Emotional Abuse?
You know your loved ones. You know their personalities, their senses of humor, and their strengths and weaknesses. If you maintain regular contact with your beloved elder, be on the lookout for changes such as those identified below:
Withdrawal, shyness, or fearfulness from a previously confident person;
Refusal to make eye contact or shying away from touch;
Significant changes in sleep or appetite not related to current medical treatments;
Unexplained toileting accidents;
Confusion or constant questioning of reality beyond that experienced by patients with medical conditions; and
Trained responses to loud stimuli, such as fearful behavior around a particular staff member or noise.
How Are Elders Emotionally Abused?
Psychological abuse can take several forms. It can come in the form of threatening or harassing the elders to keep them from talking to anyone. It can come by segregating or isolating elders to keep them from their peers and family. It can come through coercion, intimidation, or threats of potential harm to loved ones if the elders tell anyone. It can come through a withholding of social interactions, privileges, or from simple neglect.
Because there are no physical symptoms, a victim may not have his or her trouble quickly identified, and may suffer at the hands of a devious tormenter until someone stops it. The best way for a loving family member to stay on top of things is to stay involved. This may mean:
Making unannounced random visits;
Observing how the elder interacts with her or his caregivers;
Monitoring cleanliness and hygiene;
Watching for signs of stress on the part of the caregiver;
Investigating the caregiver’s reputation before hiring him or her; and
If possible, removing a loved one from the facility and giving them an opportunity to speak freely outside of the environment.