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The Effects Of Elder Abuse On Mental Health

elderly couple sitting on a couch
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Madeleine Jones
December 22, 2021

Emotional and psychological abuse is the most common type of elder abuse. But emotional abuse is the hardest one to track and therefore often unreported. Unlike sexual or financial exploitation, emotional abuse is not considered to be a crime in nature. Emotional abuse, contrary to physical abuse, doesn’t leave physical evidence. In some cases, the loved ones of a senior don’t have the slightest idea if it’s happening as they don’t get to see it first hand.

The increase of the elderly population in the United States goes hand in hand with abuse, which continues to cause a lifetime of mental health issues and trauma for older citizens. A major issue with this growing problem is the fact that many seniors are embarrassed or afraid to say anything about their abuse, fearing it may make things worse for them. 

Getting legal advice from an elder abuse lawyer you can trust can help you hold the negligent party liable for damages sustained in a claim. For help on slip and fall injuries among the elderly, visit here.

What Is Elder Abuse?

Whenever a person over 60 years old is put at risk of severe harm or harmed by an intentional, knowing, or neglectful act by a caretaker or any other person, it is called elder abuse. This abuse can be emotional, psychological, or physical. Sadly, many seniors endure this from some of their own family members.

Elder abuse and claims can be difficult to handle without the help of a lawyer who has experience dealing with these cases. Often, the abuse is hidden and can be hard to notice unless you know exactly what to look for. If you think your loved one is getting neglected or abused, they may show one or more of the behaviors below:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, weakness, anxiety, or helplessness
  • Increasing passiveness, withdrawal, or depression
  • Avoiding verbal communication or eye contact with caretakers 
  • Cowering when caretakers are present
  • Contradictory or confusing statements unrelated to health issues
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Not talking about certain situations openly
  • Avoiding friends or family members

Noticing any of these signs early enough could help lower the chances for long-term trauma and mental health issues in the future. It is important to fight for your loved one’s right to get the proper care. They deserve to hold negligent caretakers liable for their unnecessary suffering. 

What Is Mental Trauma?

Any deeply distressing or disturbing event can cause a person to suffer from what is called mental trauma. Not a single person is immune to it since it can affect people of all ages, especially people over 60 who often can feel helpless and powerless in this type of situation.

The most common symptoms of mental trauma include the following:

  • Depression
  • Digestive issues
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Shame
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Nightmares
  • Headaches

While these are the most common symptoms, there can be other effects such as changes in personality, which can include distressing flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and other harmful feelings and thoughts.

Different Types Of Abuse That Cause Mental Trauma

Like we mentioned before, not all forms of abuse are violent or physical in nature. There are other forms of abuse that can be just as traumatic, including:

  • Emotional or psychological abuse – Humiliating, shaming, yelling, and/or verbal threats are all emotional and/or psychological abuse that can cause long-term mental trauma. Medical professionals and caretakers have been known to be impatient and take their frustrations out on our elderly family members, especially behind closed doors.
  • Physical abuse – Punching, kicking, and/or slapping are just some of the physical abuse forms elders have encountered in an abusive situation. Making threats to an elder with physical abuse also counts as abuse.
  • Sexual abuse – When an abuser forces the victim to do unwanted sexual acts such as forcing intercourse or sexual contact, it is categorized as sexual abuse. Sexual abuse victims may suffer physical damage and severe mental trauma that may cause them to stop all social interactions, even with loved ones.
  • Spiritual abuse – preventing elders to worship, forcing them to join a cult, and/or disparaging their religious beliefs are all considered spiritual abuse. When the victim is not allowed to practice their faith they can often feel hopelessness and emotional distress that can deteriorate their mental health.

Sometimes abuse victims can get diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD. This can be caused by experiencing a tragic event or by a physical assault. Whether the abuse is mental or physical, they could be eligible for compensation to help pay for physical or mental therapy, medical costs, loss of enjoyment of life, pain, and suffering, and many other possible damages sustained.

Nevada’s Laws Concerning Elder Abuse

Nevada law forbids the neglect, abuse, or financial exploitation of the elderly. Although these crimes can affect people of every age, the law carries stronger penalties whenever the victim is elderly. Under NRS 200.5092, Nevada law defines an elderly individual as someone who is over the age of 60.

Mandatory reporters of elder abuse have to make the report right after the event, but no later than 24 hours after suspecting an elderly person to have been neglected, exploited, abandoned, abused, or isolated. Under Nevada Law, a mandatory reporter could be:

  • Medical professionals
  • Hospital or home health agency employers
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Coroners
  • Funeral home or mortuary employees
  • Social workers
  • Juvenile or adult probation officers
  • Employees of the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Employees of elderly homes

Penalties For Elder Abuse Crimes

For the first conviction of elder abuse, isolation, or neglect, a person can be charged with a gross misdemeanor in Nevada. The penalties can include up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Also, the court can order the defendant to pay the victim restitution money as part of the sentence.

If on top of elder abuse, isolation, or neglect, there is alleged bodily harm or mental harm to the victim, even for a first conviction, the penalties are more serious. In Nevada, these crimes can be charged as a category B felony.

Under Nevada law, elder abuse can be charged as a category B felony if the defendant has a prior conviction for elder isolation, neglect, or abuse.

For the exploitation of an elderly person, the penalties depend on how much money was stolen from the elderly victim.

Can You Sue For Mental Health Trauma In The Elderly?

Emotional distress is recognized by the courts as a type of damage that can be recovered through civil lawsuits. This means you can sue someone for mental health trauma or distress if you can provide evidence that supports your claims.

How To Sue For Mental Trauma?

Suing for emotional damages or mental trauma involves the following steps:

  1. Document the mental trauma: medical records, personal journals, etc. must be documented. The better documented the emotional distress is, the easier it is to recover damages.
  2. Discuss with a lawyer: your lawyer will review all the documentation and help prepare legal action.
  3. File a lawsuit: with the help of your lawyer, an emotional distress lawsuit will be filed against the defendant.
  4. Pre-trial preparation: after the defendant is served, the discovery process will take place. This is where information is exchanged between the two parties. Both parties will work out a settlement in order to avoid trial. Your lawyer will advise whether to take the settlement or not.
  5. Trial and settlement: the court will listen to both parties’ arguments and evidence and make a decision.

Filing a lawsuit for emotional distress or mental trauma can be an arduous and long journey. Learn how the process works and consult with an elderly abuse lawyer to have the best chances of recovering damages.

Related post: The Dangers of Undertrained Staff At Nursing Homes

Elder Abuse Attorneys in Las Vegas

If you think your loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, Cogburn Law offers free initial consultations. Our team of experienced attorneys can build a strong case for you and get you and your loved one the compensation they deserve. Call us today at (702) 748-7777.

To learn more about geriatric injuries, click here.

A few years ago we decided to move my grandfather into a nursing home. It was hard to leave him there but thought it would be the best for him, he would get the care we could no longer give him. But about 6 months ago we started noticing how neglected he seemed to be every time we visited. He was skinnier, didn’t seem to be eating well, didn’t look as clean, and just overall not the same. After talking to a friend, he recommended getting in touch with Cogburn Law. I spoke with Jamie Cogburn and found out we could file a lawsuit against the nursing home. He was amazing and really cared about making it right for my grandfather. We actually received compensation some months later which helped to pay for the new nursing home. We will definitely be recommending Cogburn Law to our friends and family

Mike R.