The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) has conducted studies showing that approximately one in ten older adults living in a community environment is a victim of abuse. And recent 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) reports indicate that one in six people aged 60 or older experienced abuse in the past year. Sadly, rates of abuse have only increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to WHO statistics. After learning how to recognize verbal abuse and its warning signs, reach out to a Jackson, MS nursing home abuse lawyer if you suspect that someone you know may have been the victim of verbal abuse.
How to Recognize Verbal Abuse
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines elder abuse as an intentional act or failure to act, generally by a caregiver or a person the elder trusts, that harms or creates a risk of harm to an adult 60 or older. There are several types of abuse. The most common forms include physical abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and psychological abuse.
Verbal abuse falls under the umbrella of psychological or emotional abuse—a form of harm that inflicts anguish, mental or emotional pain, fear, or distress on an older adult. When an older adult is the victim of verbal abuse, they experience emotional trauma caused by the toxic words of another person. Although not an exhaustive list of all possible expressions of this form of harm, the following examples can be categorized as verbal abuse:
- Harsh, destructive criticism
- Threats intended to frighten and control
- Insults, name-calling, shaming, and profanity
- Using sarcastic, derogatory language to mock the victim
- Blaming the victim for the abuse
- Gaslighting (manipulation to make the victim question their own sanity or judgment)
- Withholding attention or conversation to cause emotional distress
- Yelling and screaming at the victim
- Humiliating the victim in front of others
- Condescending and belittling language
- Instigating arguments without cause
- Accusing the victim of something they did not do
- Trivializing or discounting the victim’s questions, concerns, or emotions
- Comments made to deliberately confuse and upset
- Remarks attempting to ridicule and discredit the victim’s faith or beliefs
Warning Signs in Verbal Abuse Victims
Even if you do not personally witness an incident of verbal abuse, you may notice symptoms that abuse has taken place. The loved ones of individuals residing in a nursing home or long-term care facility should be actively and attentively involved in the elder’s life for many reasons. In this case, making sure that no warning signs go unnoticed is another reason to devote extra care and time to your loved one’s well-being.
Verbal abuse is not normally a single-incident form of abuse. In many cases, it will continue until it is brought to a stop by an outside party. But facility staff members do not always observe or report the warning signs of verbal abuse, making it especially important for family and friends to be aware of the indicators. The following are common signs that an older adult has been verbally abused:
- Noticeable emotional distress
- Changes in mood and personality
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Silence or unwillingness to communicate
- Neglect of daily habits like eating and grooming
- Feelings of despair, worthlessness, and guilt
- Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
- Anxiety, fear, irritability, and displays of nervousness
- Sensitivity to surroundings, especially loud noises
- Sudden onset of unusual behaviors (often includes rocking, biting, and sucking)
- Rapid decline in physical condition
- Inability to trust others
- Change in attitude or behavior toward the abuser
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Diminished independence
- Increased cries for attention from other parties
Incidence of Verbal Abuse in Nursing Homes
When analyzing statistics, it is important to remember that reported numbers cannot represent the full scope of all elder abuse that occurs. What may be a majority of all cases go unreported. Reporting can become especially complicated when the victim does not know they are being abused, or when they are prevented by caretakers from communicating with parties who can help. Research conducted by organizations such as the NCEA, the WHO, and the CDC is helpful in giving some indication of the prevalence of vulnerable adult abuse. The following statistics are based on the findings of these three organizations’ investigations of abuse in adults over the age of 60:
- Psychological abuse, including verbal abuse, is the most prevalent form of elder abuse, making up approximately 11% of reported cases.
- Two out of three nursing home and long-term care facility staff members surveyed self-reported that they committed some form of abuse in the past year (2020-2021).
- Older people with dementia or cognitive impairment are particularly susceptible to verbal abuse.
- Psychological abuse is more likely to be reported by facility staff members, caregivers, or friends and family than by the victims themselves.
- There is a strong link between emotional abuse and deteriorating physical conditions in older adults.
Steps to Take After Verbal Abuse
The Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) provides two means for reporting elder abuse. If you discover that someone you know has been the victim of abuse or neglect, a report can be made by calling the Vulnerable Person Abuse Hotline (844-437-6282) or by submitting a form online. In the event of an emergency, or if you suspect an older adult’s life may be in immediate danger, dial 911 or a local law enforcement agency.
Once the victim has been safely removed from a situation of harm, legal action should be taken against the party who perpetrated abuse. When the abuser is not a family member, it is highly probable that other vulnerable individuals were victimized in the same way. A person who harms those under their care and supervision should never be allowed to continue in their position of employment. If you need the legal advice of a Jackson, MS nursing home abuse lawyer, reach out to our firm at Pittman, Roberts & Welsh, PLLC. The first step is to schedule a free consultation to discuss the details of your case with one of our attorneys.