Emotional Abuse, Withdrawal and Silence Around Caretakers

Emotional abuse and withdrawal is a common sign of nursing home abuse and neglect. A senior experiencing emotional withdrawal may adopt reclusive behaviors, avoiding social situations and shutting out others.Emotionally withdrawn seniors are often described as detached, aloof, and reclusive. If a typically engaged and outgoing senior becomes secluded and removed, this is an indication of emotional withdrawal. Emotional withdrawal can manifest in the form of silence around caretakers, especially if the caretakers are the ones causing the elder discomfort.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional withdrawal and silence around caretakers are common signs of emotional abuse.

According to the Administration for Community Living, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  emotional abuse is “inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts.”


elderly woman
Signs of Elderly Emotional Abuse Include Withdrawal and Silence Among Caretakers

Examples of emotional abuse include:

  • Humiliation of the elder
  • Intimidation of the elder
  • Threatening behavior towards the elder
  • Isolation of the elder from other residents or activities
  • Ignoring the elder

Signs of Emotional Abuse in Elderly

The National Center on Elder Abuse lists sudden, unexplained behavioral changes, such as emotional withdrawal and silence around caretakers, as red flags of psychological/emotional abuse. Other signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Changes in outgoingness and levels of interaction with staff and other residents
  • Nervousness
  • Avoidance of eye contact, darting eyes
  • Agitated or fearful behavior in the presence of certain caretakers

If you notice several of these behavioral changes, you should investigate if these changes are the result of emotional abuse.


elderly man
Emotional Abuse of Elderly Patients Is Often Unreported Because of a Lack of Physical Symptoms

Reasons to Report Elderly Emotional Abuse Cases

There are two types of symptoms of abuse: physical/concrete and behavioral. Unlike the effects of physical abuse, the effects of emotional abuse are almost entirely behavioral. Emotional abuse cases often go unreported because of the lack of visible physical symptoms. However, emotional abuse can result in:

  • Personality changes and the development of personality disorders (ex. schizophrenia)
  • Beginning or worsening of cognitive decline
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
elderly hands holding cane
Keep a Record of Any Suspected Emotional Abuse or Neglect For Nursing Home Administrators, State Regulators or Legal Counsel

How to Report Emotional Abuse Cases

empty wheelchairFollow these steps if you suspect emotional abuse:

  1. Report the behaviors of caretakers and their effects on the patient to the manager of the nursing home. Be prepared to take further action if the facility manager does not take steps to remediate the situation.
  2. Alert state authorities of the situation. If the nursing home is in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Department of Health website to learn more about filing a complaint about the care quality or staff.
  3. If you believe that the emotional distress is the result of negligence or abuse, we suggest having a discussion with one of our attorneys. In New Jersey, we recommend calling Gartenberg Howard at (201) 488-4644.


Some aspects of emotional abuse, such as threatening harm, destroying personal property, are criminal and warrant legal action. If a patient reports any of these behaviors, keep a record of these accounts. Document any behavioral changes.

 For a case evaluation call (201) 488-4644 or fill out the form on the right side of this page.


The Nursing Home Abuse Guide

Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Brown and Brown: Attorneys At Law

The National Center on Elder Abuse

American Society on Aging

Family Caregivers Online

A Place for Mom

SI Elder Law, LLC

New Jersey Department of Health