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An older adult in a nursing home or assisted living facility is at risk of being abused or neglected. Sadly, most of these cases go unreported and unnoticed. The signs are not always inherently clear, especially for emotional or financial abuse. This makes it hard for family members to recognize the problem right away.

Emotional abuse comes in many forms. Physical abuse is often apparent from bruising, broken bones, and other outright signs. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is one of the more common and underreported, because the symptoms are not as psychically visible.

Emotional abuse may happen in the nursing home and assisted living facility setting. The abuse itself may come from a caregiver, assistant, volunteer, or family member. It typically involves emotional or psychological distress and pain, which can cause long-term damage.

Exploring the Types of Emotional Abuse Seen in Chicago Nursing Homes

Emotional abuse does not require verbal contact. In some instances, it can be nonverbal gestures. Therefore, it is vital that you understand the ways a person can be emotionally abused so that you better understand how to look out for symptoms of the psychological distress that stems from it.

  • Humiliation: Humiliating or ridiculing a person in front of others or alone.
  • Terrorizing: Making them fear for their lives, submit to demands for food or water, and menacing the victim.
  • Ignoring: Completely ignoring as a punishment.
  • Demeaning: Continually blaming the person, using demeaning behavior, scapegoating, and making the victim feel at fault for the abuse.
  • Intimidation: Using verbal threats, physical cues, or yelling at the victim to intimidate them into acting or doing something. Threats of physical violence if they tell loved ones about the abuse also qualifies.
  • Isolation: Purposely isolating the victim from social activities, friends, and loved ones to control them.

How Common Is Emotional Abuse in Nursing Homes?

According to the American Public Health Association, they estimate that 2.5 million elders were victims of emotional abuse in 2006. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is more underreported than physical, so these numbers could be higher. Neglect is the most commonly reported type of abuse in nursing homes, and physical abuse cases often report emotional abuse as well.

Not all emotional abuses cases have physical violence, but a clear majority do.

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Abuse

Without a physical scar left behind, identifying emotional abuse becomes more difficult. However, there are some common signs a person might display if they are the victim of psychological abuse, including:

  • Lower Self Esteem – Do you notice your loved one’s self-esteem has dropped lately? Do they give themselves little to no credit or put themselves down? They may lose confidence in their ability to do things or undervalue their worth.
  • Avoiding Eye Contact – As emotional abuse increases, the victim may not make eye contact with the abuser. They may also start avoiding eye contact with anyone in a social setting.
  • Stops Speaking Openly – The victim might not talk to friends, family, or other caregivers openly. They may have trouble communicating or seem reluctant to communicate out of fear of retaliation from the abuser.
  • Changes in Eating or Sleeping – A victim might have night terrors or nightmares, be unable to sleep comfortably, stop eating and drinking, or refuse medications as part of their depression or fear.
  • Withdrawn and Depressed Suddenly – If the person is ordinarily upbeat and suddenly becomes withdrawn, depressed, or hopeless, it is a warning sign of potential emotional abuse. They might seem disturbed, scared, on edge, or even have symptoms of anxiety.
  • Suicidal Thoughts or Tendencies – If they seem like they have a desire to hurt themselves or make suicide attempts.
  • Becomes Anti-Social – If they withdraw from social interactions, avoid gathering in the community, or start refusing friends and family members who visit, it could be a sign of emotional abuse.

How Is Emotional Abuse Diagnosed?

The symptoms of emotional abuse can overlap regular depression at times, which makes it hard for the abuse itself to be diagnosed. Sometimes, family members will assume their loved one is depressed, and medical professionals may diagnose and treat the depression without finding the underlying cause.

If you suspect emotional abuse, report those suspicions to the government agency overseeing nursing home care in your state immediately. The state assigns a caregiver advocate who will then investigate the potential abuse. These individuals are trained in diagnosing emotional abuse and neglect. They will ask a series of questions to the potential victim as well as interview caregivers and other residents in the facility to identify whether emotional abuse is occurring.

Treating Emotional Abuse Is Difficult

Emotional abuse, especially abuse that can continue for several months, can cause long-term psychological trauma. A person may fear those outside of their comfort circle, be unable to handle new caregivers out of fear, and suffer from long-term depression or anxiety. Some may even have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from their experience.

Once emotional abuse is diagnosed, removing the person from the environment is the first step toward recovery. They will be placed somewhere they feel safe, which might include living with family or attending an adult daycare. Then a counselor will help work with the victim. Physicians may need to prescribe medications to help the victim cope with the distress, recover sleep, and calm anxiety.

Holding Nursing Homes Liable for Emotional Abuse

When a nursing home resident feels helpless, scared, or suffers from emotional trauma in a nursing home, the caregiver and the nursing home itself might be liable for the damage caused.

Emotional abuse is extraordinarily challenging to treat, and the suffering associated with it is often long-term. Victims may be permanently scarred from the trauma, require ongoing medication and care, and might be unable to return to a nursing home. This means family members must take on the costs of caring for their loved one at home.

Victims of emotional abuse in a nursing home have the right to hold the nursing home and associated parties financially liable.

It is best to consult with an attorney if you think you have a case for nursing home abuse, including emotional abuse. An attorney will evaluate the factors in your case and determine what compensation you may qualify for.

Some common types of compensation seen in emotional abuse cases include:

  • Medical Costs – While there may be no physical abuse, there are still medical expenses that stem from emotional abuse. The victim might require hospitalization, medication, and treatments with a therapist. These costs quickly add up and can exhaust their medical insurance benefits.
  • Relocation Costs – From moving the victim out of the nursing home to the cost of finding a new nursing home or relocating back home for in-home care, these costs can be recovered in a lawsuit against the nursing home facility. Furthermore, the victim may receive a payback for fees paid to the nursing home during the abuse period.
  • Lost Wages – Family members who must stop working or miss time from work to care for their loved one after the incident may receive compensation too. For example, an adult child must care for their parent at home because their parent has severe PTSD that prevents them from entering another nursing home.
  • Pain and Suffering – Pain and suffering damages are not solely reserved for those suffering physical injuries. The law recognizes the anguish involved in emotional abuse cases. And victims can receive compensation for the mental, emotional, and the ongoing torment they suffer because of their emotional abuse.

Do You Need an Attorney for Elder Abuse?

While you have reported the incident to the state, you may still want to consult with an attorney. The state does not file a lawsuit on your behalf to seek compensation. They may bring charges and fines against the nursing home that caused your loved one’s distress, but to receive personal compensation you must file a claim against the nursing home or caregiver yourself.

An attorney can help you through this process. The team at Malman Law understands what you and your loved one are going through, and we want to help. We hold nursing homes accountable for their negligence, and we ensure that our victims receive compensation for their financial losses so that they can focus on recovering from the trauma of emotional abuse without financial worries looming in the background.

Explore your options today by contacting one of our attorneys for a free, no-risk consultation. You can schedule your appointment now by calling 888-625-6265 or by requesting an interview online.

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Steven Malman was selected to the list. The list is issued by the American Institute of Legal Counsel. A description of the selection methodology can be found at

  • Steven Malman was selected to the list. The list is issued by the National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys. A description of the selection methodology can be found at

  • Steven Malman was selected to the list for 2018-2019.

  • Only the top 100 trial lawyers from each state or highly-populated regions of certain states who are actively practicing in civil plaintiff and/or criminal defense law are eligible for invitation. Invitees must demonstrate superior qualifications, leadership skills, and trial results as a legal professional. The selection process for this elite honor is based on a multi-phase process based upon objective and uniformly applied criteria which includes peer nominations combined with third party research.

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  • The American Institute of Trial Lawyers is an invitation only professional organization composed of premier trial attorneys from each state. These attorneys exemplify the very best qualities and qualifications of an attorney. Each attorney must meet stringent qualifications as a civil or criminal trial attorney. These attorneys practice in a variety of fields to help and promote the ethical and elite practice of law. Selection is based on a thorough multi phase process which includes peer nominations and third party research. Each member must be in good standing with their local compliance organization. Membership is extended to only a select few in each state and/or region.

  • As the founder of Steven J. Malman and Associates, P.C., Attorney Steven Malman has 21 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, premises liability, construction and workers’ compensation cases. Mr. Malman is one of Chicago’s leading authorities on personal injury law and has taken a special interest in defending the elderly from neglect and abuse. He has personally handled over 10,000 cases successfully, and collected hundreds of millions dollars for his clients.

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