Recognizing and Responding to Emotional Abuse in Elders

June 30, 2023 Insights

elderly sitting at the park

Elder abuse is a pervasive issue that often goes unnoticed, largely because people are not aware of the warning signs or do not know how to help. While physical abuse may leave visible signs, emotional abuse is harder to detect but just as harmful. 

Emotional abuse can cause long-lasting psychological damage that affects an elder’s quality of life, mental health, and overall well-being.

In this blog post, we will discuss the signs of emotional abuse in elders, how to recognize it, and what steps you can take to protect your loved ones.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional or psychological abuse is any behavior that aims to control, manipulate, or intimidate an elder through verbal or non-verbal means. 

This abuse can take various forms, such as humiliation, isolation, threats, and manipulation. Emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse, causing the victim to experience depression, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness.

Signs of Emotional Abuse in Elders

Identifying emotional abuse can be challenging since it often happens behind closed doors and leaves no physical evidence. However, several signs may indicate an elder is experiencing emotional abuse:

1. Changes in Behavior

A significant change in an elder’s behavior, such as increased agitation, withdrawal from social activities, or sudden mood swings, may indicate emotional abuse. These changes may also manifest as a decline in personal hygiene or a loss of interest in hobbies and activities they once enjoyed.

2. Fear or Anxiety Around a Specific Person

If an elder appears fearful or anxious in the presence of a particular individual (such as a caregiver, family member, or friend), this could be a sign of emotional abuse. The elder may avoid eye contact, become tense, or attempt to leave the room when the person is present.

3. Unexplained Weight Loss or Loss of Appetite 

Emotional abuse can cause an elder to lose their appetite, leading to weight loss and malnutrition. If an elder is suddenly losing weight or not eating well, this could be a sign of emotional distress.

4. Depression or Anxiety

Emotional abuse can severely affect an elder’s mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues. An elder experiencing unexplained bouts of sadness, tearfulness, or excessive worry may be a sign of emotional abuse.

5. Feelings of Helplessness or Hopelessness

Victims of emotional abuse often feel trapped and powerless to change their situation. If an elder frequently expresses feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, they may be experiencing emotional abuse.

How to Help an Elder Experiencing Emotional Abuse

If you suspect that your loved one is experiencing emotional abuse, it is essential to take action to protect their well-being. Here are some steps you can take to help:

1. Speak to the Elder

Open a line of communication with the elder and express your concerns. Be supportive and non-judgmental, and encourage them to share their feelings and experiences. It is essential to listen carefully and validate their feelings to establish trust.

2. Gather Evidence

Document any signs of emotional abuse, such as changes in behavior, weight loss, or signs of depression. Keep a written record of specific incidents, including dates, times, and details of what occurred.

3. Report the Abuse

If you believe an elder is in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, report your concerns to your local Adult Protective Services agency, which is responsible for investigating elder abuse reports. Be prepared to provide the elder’s name, address, and details of the suspected abuse.

4. Seek Professional Help

Encourage the elder to seek counseling or therapy to address the psychological effects of emotional abuse. Help them find a therapist specializing in elder abuse or trauma if necessary.

5. Offer Support

Offer emotional support to the elder and reassure them that they are not alone. Encourage them to lean on friends, family members, or support groups for comfort and guidance.


Emotional abuse is a serious issue that can affect an elder’s well-being. By recognizing the signs and taking action to help, you can protect your loved ones from emotional abuse. 

Remember that emotional abuse is never the victim’s fault and that seeking help and support is crucial to healing and regaining control over their lives.

Circeo Law Firm is home to award-winning Kentucky injury attorneys. You can count on us as we aggressively advocate for justice. If you or a loved one have been injured due to negligence, let us help you. If you need an attorney for nursing home abuse, get a free consult today.