Suing for Verbal or Emotional Abuse in a Nursing Home

By HGD Staff

When most people think of nursing home abuse, they think of obvious and catastrophic physical injuries. In reality, there are a lot of different ways that a vulnerable senior living in a nursing home facility can be subjected to abuse. One of the most insidious and frightening ways that abusers can hurt residents is through verbal and emotional abuse.

So, what makes verbal and emotional abuse so terrifying and serious? In short, it is because the victim is trapped in an institutional setting, where the abuser may be their sole source of food, medical care, and even the source of medications necessary for survival. According to a 2000 report, 95% of nursing home residents polled stated that they had either been abused or witnessed abuse.

At Heninger Garrison Davis, our nursing home abuse lawyers are ready to fight to make sure vulnerable seniors are protected. If you believe a loved one is being abused in a nursing home, or you have lost a loved one due to poor medical care or neglect, you have the right to seek compensation for the injuries and loss. Call us today to speak with someone free of charge.

What is Verbal and Emotional Abuse?

Verbal abuse can take many forms, but at its core, it is using threats, hate speech, insults or ridicule in order to embarrass, shame, intimidate, or control another person. Here are a few common examples:

  • A staff member gets frustrated at how frequently a senior needs toileting assistance and begins verbally insulting or making fun of the resident
  • Out of frustration or just pure cruelty, a nurse threatens to withhold medications just to scare a resident
  • A cleaning person uses racial slurs toward an elderly resident

While these are just a few examples, rest assured they have happened. Sadly, it can be difficult to identify the signs of verbal and emotional abuse.

A Nursing Home is Meant to be the Resident’s Home

When it comes to elderly nursing home residents, it is critical to understand that a nursing home is not the same as a hospital. It is called a nursing “home” for a reason. It is not a healthcare facility where the individual will spend a day or two then head home. Instead, nursing homes are also aptly called “long-term skilled nursing” facilities. A person goes to a skilled nursing facility for long-term rehabilitation or possibly a final admission during the end of life. There is an expectation that the facility – in particular, the resident’s room – will be treated as a private space akin to a home. In fact, it is more than an expectation; federal law guarantees it.

Nursing Home Resident Rights

Under federal regulations, a resident has a right to privacy in his or her own room and the right to a home-like environment. Many states add additional rights in order to guarantee that a mistreated resident will have adequate legal options if their rights under the law are violated.

How to Recognize the Signs of Verbal and Emotional Abuse

A senior living with constant abuse may act in ways that do not always make sense at first. Here are a few major red flags to watch for:

  • Some residents become withdrawn or tell family members not to visit. This can seem counterintuitive because one would expect a resident to want protection and comfort from loved ones. However, feelings of shame, frailty, and embarrassment can cause a senior to avoid contact with loved ones. Likewise, if staff are threatening the senior, he or she may simply seek to avoid situations that seem suspicious to the staff.
  • Refusing Food or Medicine. Another strange but common warning sign is a physical manifestation of withdrawal. In addition to avoiding loved ones, the senior may, in fact, choose to stop medical care or cease eating, socializing, or rehabilitation efforts. In some cases, this is a deliberate form of suicide. In other instances, it is an unconscious attempt to remove the painful stimuli by simply not asking for things. In this resident’s mind, if he or she does not ask for things, the staff will have no reason to continue the abuse.
  • Abnormal Behavior Around Certain Staff. If your loved one becomes guarded or visibly disturbed when a specific staff member is around, this could be a sign of abuse.

What to do About Abuse

Ultimately, you have the power to put an end to abuse. If you suspect abuse, you should report it to your state’s elder abuse hotline. It must be posted in the facility. You can report by phone or via e-mail and letter. Here are a few for your reference:


New York       Abuse Hotline             (888) 201-4563           (available 24/7)


New Jersey   Abuse Hotline               (800) 792-9770           (available 24/7)


Georgia           Abuse Hotline             (866) 55-AGING        (M-F 8:00am – 5:00pm)


Alabama          Abuse Hotline             (800) 356-9596           (M-F 8:00am – 5:00pm)

Next, call Heninger Garrison Davis to speak with an attorney for free. We can help you better understand your rights and options. In many cases, an abused senior may have a right to compensation. If your loved one has died, and you suspect abuse may have played a role, then his or her estate may be entitled to compensation, as well. Give us a call to discuss your concerns today.











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