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Recognizing psychological abuse in nursing homes

Many New Mexico residents may be aware of the financial and physical abuse that sometimes occurs in nursing homes. However, psychological elder abuse is a serious problem that is often difficult to recognize and easy to ignore. While the signs of psychological abuse may not be as obvious as those of physical abuse, there are often severe long-term consequences. Nursing home residents, employees and family members may be able to reduce the risk of ongoing abuse when they are able to recognize common signs.

According to Psychology Today, elder abuse may occur in several different forms: physical, financial, sexual and emotional. Psychological or emotional abusers may cause trauma or distress through non-physical means. In many cases, there is verbal abuse that degrades or threatens the victim through name-calling, yelling and/or swearing. Psychological abuse may also include nonverbal aspects, such as using intimidating body language, withdrawing affection or isolating the victim from others. Victims of psychological abuse may show signs including fear, sadness, anxiety and agitation.

Unfortunately, elder abuse frequently occurs in nursing homes. The World Health Organization reports that over two-thirds of staff members in long-term care facilities and nursing homes admitted to committing some form of elder abuse in 2017. Of the reported incidents, over 32% included psychological abuse. The WHO report indicates that abuse may occur more often when victims have mental health issues or live in social isolation. Nursing homes may increase the risk of abuse if they have low standards of care and/or undertrained staff members.

According to the WHO, there are several potential ways to prevent elder abuse. Public awareness campaigns on abuse and mental health may allow people to recognize the signs more easily. It may also help to provide additional support for caregivers, especially those who have patients with mental health issues. Improved screening and reporting processes may also help authorities find and prevent abuse.

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