Psychological abuse is the most common type of abuse reported to the AEA helpline. It invariably involves identifying something – a person or an object – that matters to an older person and then threatening to endanger it unless the older person complies with demands. The most common examples are threatening access to grandchildren (if someone lives at home) or denying access to family visits (if someone lives in a residential home).
It is rare for psychological abuse to happen in isolation and often it is linked to financial abuse. Other terms for psychological abuse would be coercion or intimidation, and these are usually crimes.
Psychological abuse is often a crime but is not always prosecuted.
What are the signs of psychological abuse?
Psychological abuse can have a profound impact on someone’s mental health; they can feel trapped, threatened, humiliated, used, or a combination of all these. Most signs therefore relate to someone’s mental state, and changes in behaviour.
- Hesitation to talk openly
- Implausible stories
- Confusion or disorientation
- Anger without apparent cause
- Sudden change in behaviour
- Emotionally upset or agitated
- Unusual behaviour (sucking, biting, or rocking)
- Unexplained fear
- Denial of a situation
- Extremely withdrawn and non communicative or non responsive
- An older person telling you they are being verbally or emotionally abused
How to react…
A major point to remember – whether you are personally coping with abuse or whether you are concerned about the abuse of another – is that you are not alone. Abusers very often exploit the fact that someone may be (or feel) isolated. They can encourage, emphasise or create dependency in someone in order to exploit that feeling to their own advantage. And, very often, they will rely on someone not disclosing, or the natural disbelief that many people hold when considering elder abuse.
It is important therefore to protect yourself if you are an older person, and sometimes that can be very simple. It is also important that neighbours, friends, families and practitioners are alert to the possibility of abuse – and are therefore ready to act on concerns or suspicions.
Too often abuse has continued because people spotted something that felt wrong, but took no action as they doubted their own concerns. And sometimes the abuse has then continued for years longer. Being alert to the possibility of abuse is sensible, without needlessly seeing it everywhere. Being prepared to act is prudent.