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Psychological Abuse in NYC Nursing Homes

Today, more than 1.4 million patients reside in nursing homes. Elderly residents are an exceptionally vulnerable group, and may have mental or physical disablements that leave them more prone to abuse and neglect. While it’s difficult to know for certain how many people are suffering from elder abuse in nursing homes, a comprehensive article published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that approximately 10 percent of patients face some sort of abuse, including physical, verbal, sexual, and psychological trauma.

Abuse can materialize in more ways than just visible bumps, cuts, and bruises. Elderly residents are especially susceptible to verbal and non-verbal forms of trauma, including insults, threats, intimidation, humiliation, verbal assaults, and harassment. This kind of abuse, which can cause emotional harm and anguish, is especially dangerous because of the lasting mental scars it can leave.

What Is Psychological Abuse in Nursing Homes?

Psychological and emotional abuse occurs most often in situations where the aggressor has some sort of power over the victim. In this case, almost every aspect of a nursing home resident’s life—their food, medication, and cleanliness—is controlled by others, making them frequent victims of psychological abuse. This type of trauma can cause a victim to be burdened by emotional distress, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness.

Psychological abuse can be difficult to substantiate because there may not be physical records of emotional trauma as there often are with other forms of abuse, like financial or physical. The “proof,” in this case, will be verbal or situational. Likewise, some victims may not be able to articulate their experience as a result of medical issues or mental incapacity. Psychological abuse is particularly dangerous to the elderly as it can contribute to a decline in health or even death. Psychological abuse is considered by many to be the most common form of elder abuse.

Common Types of Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse can be executed in a number of ways, from obvious examples like yelling at or insulting the victim to more subtle actions like ignoring the resident, isolating them from their peers, or purposefully denying them prompt medical care. The following list provides a few common examples of psychological abuse for which to keep an eye out:

  • Menacing, threatening, or intimidating behavior toward a resident
  • Humiliating, ridiculing, or blaming the victim
  • Ignoring a resident’s needs or giving them the silent treatment
  • Yelling or shouting at the victim
  • Isolating a resident from their family or friends
  • Making a patient feel guilty or distressed
  • Threatening to withhold food or water from an elderly resident
  • Placing necessary items such as walkers, glasses, canes, or dentures out of reach

This kind of abuse can cause immense psychological pain to a patient. Like many victims of abuse, the resident may not recognize the patterns or believe that they’re being mistreated. For an elderly and vulnerable resident, this kind of trauma can also exacerbate both mental and physical ailments, from dementia and depression to heart conditions and high blood pressure.

In addition, psychological abuse often accompanies other forms of manipulation like physical and sexual abuse. When nursing home caretakers or staff are physically harming a nursing home resident, the victim may fear to speak out because they have little or no power. Moreover, the abusive staff member may threaten to restrict food, deny medications or visiting hours, or exacerbate the physical or sexual abuse if the victim tells anyone about the situation. While psychological abuse is more indirect, it may prevent you from recognizing other kinds of abuse and is therefore vital to sniff out.

Symptoms of Psychological Abuse

Victims of psychological abuse often display behavioral symptoms while enduring psychological or emotional abuse. In general, victims of abuse often become more timid and withdrawn and less self-assured. In some cases, however, psychological abuse can cause a victim to act more aggressive, agitated, and easily angered. Behavioral symptoms may include:

  • Depression and withdrawal
  • Forms of self-harm such as cutting
  • Refusal to interact or speak with others
  • Sudden change in personality or behavior
  • Repetitive behavior such as sucking hands or fingers, biting oneself or others, rocking back and forth, pulling hair, or grinding teeth
  • Excessive fear or nervousness

After a period of time, psychological abuse can have a long-term effect on a victim’s health. The victim may lose their appetite or lose weight, suffer from insomnia, or refuse to take their medications. Any or all of these symptoms may make a victim’s pre-existing conditions worse as their general state of health declines.

Resources of Victims of Elder Abuse

We understand how stressful it can be to watch your loved ones face any form of trauma, pain, or distress. You always have the option of reporting elder abuse of any kind to the Adult Protective Services (APS) agency for your state. They will assign a caseworker to investigate if they feel the situation violates laws protecting senior citizens.

Local law enforcement may also be contacted to investigate criminal misconduct, either by you or by APS. However, it’s important to note that APS investigations can take months to complete, if APS deems the situation viable for investigation at all. Although you may choose to simply report suspected elder abuse, it may be in your best interest to take more direct action and file a lawsuit against a nursing home by enlisting the help of an attorney.


If you believe that a member of your family is facing any form of psychological or emotional abuse, consider reaching out to the trusted lawyers at Dalli and Marino. We’re a group of successful nursing home abuse attorneys whose verdicts and settlements have recovered millions of dollars for our clients since 1996.

Our team of highly skilled trial lawyers approaches each case on an individual basis and is dedicated to helping you recover the money you deserve to compensate you for your loss. Give us a call at 888-465-8790 or complete our contact form today.

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