What Are the Symptoms and Risk Factors of Emotional Abuse in Santa Fe Nursing Homes?

Posted by PKSD New Mexico Law Firm on July 8, 2024 in Nursing Home Abuse

older man in wheelchair in dark roomSome may downplay emotional abuse in nursing homes because it does not directly cause physical injuries. Unfortunately, emotional abuse often affects elderly victims for far longer than physical harm.

Our Santa Fe nursing home abuse lawyers discuss the signs and risk factors for emotional abuse in nursing homes. We also review the ways nursing home abuse affects victims and the evidence families need to prove mistreatment of their elderly loved one.

If you suspect someone is emotionally abusing your loved one, contact PKSD New Mexico today. We have more than 150 years of combined legal experience and have helped our clients recover millions in compensation. We do not charge any fees unless we win your case.

Call 414-333-3333 to set up your free consultation today.

What Is Emotional Abuse in Nursing Homes?

Elder emotional abuse is any non-physical behavior that harms an elderly individual’s mental health. This can include:

  • Verbal Assaults: These are harsh, critical, or unkind remarks that demean or belittle your loved one. For example, staff members might mock or insult a resident’s physical appearance or hygiene. Staffers might even mock a resident’s physical or mental disability.
  • Threats: Threats induce fear of harm or punishment. Some perpetrators make specific threats about the physical harm they plan to inflict. This can cause severe and constant anxiety that makes nursing home residents feel unsafe.
  • Humiliation: Embarrassing or degrading actions or comments toward your loved one that strip him or her of dignity and self-respect. An example might be making degrading comments about your loved one to other staff members. This is particularly humiliating if the abuser does this in front of the victim. For instance, abusers might make fun of a resident for struggling to do something. Abusers may say victims deserve what is happening to them.
  • Isolation: Deliberately isolating a resident from social interactions with other residents, friends or family members can make them feel lonely or abandoned. Emotional abusers may also manipulate the resident’s perception of reality, causing them to doubt their memories or even their sanity. Isolation is often done to control the victim, which is why abusers may withhold meals, medications or privileges. Abusers may ignore pleas for help with basic needs, or limit access to food, water, the bathroom or even assistive devices (wheelchair, cane, walker, eyeglasses, etc.). Sometimes emotional abusers hide personal items to cause residents to feel disoriented.
  • Intimidation: This refers to any actions or gestures that scare or coerce your loved one into compliance. Intimidation can make people feel weak and powerless, leading to depression and social withdrawal. This often involves threatening looks but can also include statements.
  • Restricting Social Activities: Some emotional abusers prevent residents from taking part in social events at the facility, such as birthday parties or meals with other residents. Abusers might prevent residents from going outside or even talking to anyone else.

What Risk Factors Increase the Risk of Emotional Abuse in Nursing Homes?

While emotional abuse can happen anywhere, there are certain risk factors that make some facilities or situations a breeding ground for emotional abuse. These risk factors may include:


Understaffed nursing homes do not have enough staff and caregivers to meet residents’ needs. The staff members who are there are often overworked and stressed out, as the demands of their jobs take a heavy emotional toll. This does not excuse physically or verbally lashing out at residents, but overworked, burned out staff members are more likely to lose their patience and get angry.

If your loved one suffers emotional abuse due to understaffing, the abuser and the facility the allowed understaffing should both be held liable.

Lack of Proper Training for Caregivers

Insufficient training means caregivers may not have the necessary skills to handle elderly residents’ complex emotional and psychological needs. This can be frustrating, and staff members often take out their frustration on residents, as residents are an easy, vulnerable target.

Training for caregivers is about more than learning how to do specific things, it is also about learning how to protect the health and well-being of the people they are caring for. If staff members do not know how to that in a healthy way, there can be severe psychological consequences for the victim.

Cognitive Impairments

Residents with cognitive impairments, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, are particularly vulnerable to emotional abuse. Their condition may make it difficult for them to understand or report mistreatment, leaving them more susceptible to manipulative or harmful behaviors by caregivers.

Lack of Oversight

Insufficient oversight and regulation contribute to an emotionally abusive environment. Regular inspections, strict adherence to regulations and open channels for reporting concerns are vital for maintaining a safe and supportive nursing home environment.

History of Abuse of the Elderly

Many nursing homes do a poor job of vetting potential employees and caregivers. They may not discover past instances of abuse or neglect of residents.

Even if facilities discover this concerning history, which may include criminal charges, they may ignore it and hire the person anyway. Working at a nursing home is a difficult job and sometimes facilities feel they need to cut corners to hire the staff they need.

Some of these caregivers/staff members have a history of abuse or alcohol or drugs or even mental health problems like depression. Staff members who lack effective coping skills may be more likely to react to stress in unhealthy ways, such as by abusing others.

What Are Some Signs of Emotional Abuse of Nursing Home Residents?

Emotional abuse can have severe and long-lasting effects on victims. If the victim’s loved ones can detect the warning signs of this abuse, you may be able to prevent or at least shorten the suffering.

Loved ones play a vital role in stopping emotional abuse. The victims are often afraid to speak out because they fear retaliation. Some victims may be mentally compromised, which prevents them from realizing there is a problem, much less verbalizing what is going on.

If you notice any of these signs, you should investigate what is happening and report abuse to the appropriate authorities:

  • Depression and anxiety, especially around certain staff members
  • Fearfulness and heightened stress
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Withdrawal from social activities, especially activities he or she once enjoyed
  • Decline in physical health caused by emotional stress
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Unusual anger or sadness
  • Anxious behaviors, like biting nails, pulling hair, grinding teeth or rocking back and forth when sitting down
  • Complaints about abuse
  • Worsening personal hygiene
  • Refusing to talk to other people

Is There Treatment for My Loved One Who Has Suffered Emotional Abuse?

Yes, there is treatment available for those who have suffered emotional abuse. This treatment often involves:

  • Counseling and therapy to address mental health concerns
  • Medication for anxiety or depression, if needed
  • Support groups to share experiences and gain emotional support; research shows that people who have strong social support are less likely to have mental health problems

Taking legal action against the facility can also be a vital part of the response to emotional abuse. A lawsuit may provide compensation to treat your loved one’s physical and emotional injuries. Lawsuits may also help ensure residents of the facility are treated better moving forward.

How to Prove Your Loved One Was Emotionally Abused in a Nursing Home

Proving emotional abuse can be challenging. Although emotional abuse can be much more damaging than physical abuse, physical abuse is often easier to prove and quantify.

Here are some steps loved ones can take to document emotional abuse:

  • Document Incidents: Note changes in your loved one’s behavior, mood and other emotions. Record any specific incidents or interactions that concern you, such as your loved one feeling timid around certain staff members or despondent.
  • Collect Evidence: Take photos or videos if you notice visible neglect or distress. Save any voicemails, messages or other communications that suggest abuse.
  • Speak to Witnesses: Ask other residents or visitors if they have noticed similar issues and speak with nursing home staff who may be willing to testify.
  • Report to Authorities: Contact the nursing home’s management to discuss your concerns. If you do not see any changes or if the problem worsens, file a report with New Mexico’s Department of Health.
  • Contact an Experienced Attorney: The attorneys at PKSD New Mexico have extensive experience proving abuse and neglect of nursing home residents. We guide our clients through the legal process.

Is Your Loved One Suffering from Emotional Abuse in a Nursing Home? Call PKSD New Mexico

If you believe your loved one has suffered emotional abuse, you should consider legal action to hold the perpetrators accountable and secure compensation for damages. Our team has decades of combined experience helping injured victims and their loved ones recover the compensation they deserve.

Our legal team provides a free consultation to nursing home abuse victims and their families. We charge no fees unless we win your case.

Call PKSD law firm at 414-333-3333.

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