Emotional abuse is the most common type of abuse suffered by elderly citizens. In one study, the Effects of Emotional Abuse on SeniorsNational Center on Elder Abuse reported that about 60 percent of caregivers had admitted to being verbally abusive towards patients. The effects of emotional abuse vary case by case, but can cause physical ailments as well as emotional disorders.

Causes of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse often begins with frustration and anxiety of the caregiver or resident family members. Taking care of an elderly patient, especially if there are health complications, is often seen as stressful. While the relationship may not start out abusive, continued and increasing stress over time can cause caregivers to lose patience.

Types of Emotional Abuse

There are two main types of emotional abuse, psychological and verbal abuse. Verbal abuse includes yelling at patients, mocking patients, minimizing concerns, and making derogatory statements. Psychological abuse can be more subtle. Psychological abuse can include ignoring the patient, keeping the patient isolated from friends and family, and making threatening gestures. These two types of emotional abuse often occur together.

Effects of Emotional Abuse on Patients

The effects of emotional abuse on patients manifest both physically and psychologically. Patients that are abused are 300 percent more likely to die than patients that are not abused. Depending on the type and severity of the abuse, the effects of emotional abuse may vary.

Effects of Abuse on Mental state

Patients that suffer from emotional abuse may suffer changes in personality, including development of personality disorders such as schizophrenia. Personality changes may involve becoming withdrawn or becoming violent and aggressive. Cognitive decline may begin, or if present, may worsen.

Psychological disorders that may stem from emotional abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders


Effects of Abuse on Physical Health

The effects of emotional abuse can take a toll on physical health as well. Patients may engage in personal neglect or harm. Behaviors can range from lack of cooperation in bathing or grooming to actively inflicting harm in the form of self-cutting or hair pulling. Nervous behaviors such as scratching may cause inadvertent self harm, as well.

Complications Stemming from Abuse

Patients may have trouble eating or sleeping due to fear or stress. Issues with eating or sleeping can cause the patient to become irritable at first, but can develop into more severe complications.  Improper rest can lead to a distressed immune system, making patients susceptible to illnesses.

Improper nutrition can lead to a range of disorders and health problems including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Tooth decay
  • High cholesterol
  • Deficiencies of certain nutrients
  • Severe weight changes


Effects of Emotional Abuse on Caregivers

The majority of cases of emotional abuse occur within a domestic setting, although many cases also occur in institutional settings. In many cases, the situation does not start out abusive, and the caregiver does not intend to begin abusing the patient. As the emotional abuse begins, the caregiver may be focused on personal stress, and may not even be entirely aware that an abusive situation has developed.

Escalating Tensions

As the emotional abuse escalates, the attacks may become more frequent and aggressive. A continued lack of consequences for the emotional abuse can contribute to a power imbalance. Abuse may begin to take on different forms, such as physical.

Treating Effects of Emotional abuse

If it is discovered that a patient has been emotionally abused, the patient should be removed from the setting of the abuse. The patient should be treated for any physical effects of the abuse, such as malnutrition. Once the patient’s physical health is stable, the patient should begin psychological therapy to begin reversing some of the effects of the abuse on mental state.

Handling Effects of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse of any kind is a crime, and an attorney should be contacted to provide support and assistance for a family or patient dealing with the effects of emotional abuse. An attorney may be able to give advice on the best way to recover costs for the treatment of the abuse. An attorney may also be able to assist the family or patient in holding the individuals or institution responsible for the emotional abuse that has been suffered, especially if there are others that may still be victims of abuse within the facility.




“Elder Abuse: Consequences.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Jan 2014. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/consequences.html>.

“Elder Abuse.” National Institute on Aging. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Feb 2014. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/elder-abuse>.

“Psychological Abuse.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, n.d. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.ncadv.org/files/PsychologicalAbuse.pdf>.

“Statistics/Data.” National Center on Elder Abuse. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Library/Data/index.asp&xgt;.