Signs Your Senior Loved One is a Victim of VerbalSigns your Senior Loved One is a Victim Of Verbal Abuse Abuse

Experts who study elder abuse say as many as 10% of seniors experience some form of abuse or neglect by caregivers. Verbal abuse is the second-most common type of mistreatment seniors endure, and most cases go unreported. Here’s what you need to know about spotting signs your senior loved one is a victim of verbal abuse.

What is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse can range from name-calling and yelling to threats, intimidation, and statements meant to embarrass the victim, either in private or in front of others.

What are the signs of verbal abuse in seniors?

The federal Administration on Aging lists these red flags for possible verbal and emotional abuse:

  • Frequent arguments between senior and caregiver
  • An overall tense relationship between senior and caregiver
  • Sudden depression
  • Decrease in alertness
  • Withdrawal from normal activities
  • Belittling or threatening remarks by caregivers

Some of these signs, like withdrawal and sadness, may be glossed over by caregivers as “normal aging” and can be caused by other conditions. Any change in behavior should be looked into to find the cause. A visit to the doctor can check for physical causes and may be a way to open a discussion on abuse with your loved one.

What should you do if you suspect verbal abuse?            

If you fear your loved one’s life is in danger, call 911. In other cases, experts recommend reporting your suspicions to agencies that have the authority to investigate.

If your loved one is cared for at home, contact their local Adult Protective Services agency. If your relative or parent is cared for in assisted living or a nursing home, make your report to the Long-term Care Ombudsman’s office. Remember that you don’t need to have proof that abuse is happening in order to report it.

You can also ask your loved on these questions suggested by the NCEA:

  • Is there anyone you’re afraid of?
  • Is anyone humiliating you?
  • Is anyone asking you to do things you don’t want to do?
  • Is anyone taking your belongings without permission?

The NCEA also recommends giving your loved one’s friends and neighbors your phone number so they can contact you if they have concerns.

Finally, if you suspect a hired caregiver of verbal abuse, talk to the agency manager and request a new caregiver as soon as possible. Change the locks and security codes on your loved one’s home if the caregiver had a key or the code.

What about cameras?

Technology may not be much help in uncovering verbal abuse. That’s because although video-only “nanny cam” recordings are legal inside your own home, recording audio (even in your own home) or setting up recording equipment in someone else’s home or business can put you on the wrong side of the law.

Where can you find more information?

The National Center on Elder Abuse has a vast library of resources for family members, caregivers, and employers who want to prevent, identify, and stop elder abuse. Their checklist for visiting older relatives is a concise tool for spotting potential abuse. You can also look up your Area Agency on Aging for local abuse-prevention resources.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


  1. kate June 22, 2016 Reply

    What we need to be concerned about is the verbal or passive aggressive abuse that caregivers receive. Paid or unpaid. We don’t talk about it enough. When you can’t do something for yourself you as a person are at risk. You need to both appreciate & respect all efforts of others to do the important thing for you. Not gonna be the way you would have done it, but say “thank you” anyway. Being disrespectful puts your care at great risk & is very hurtful to caregivers & leads to burn-out. You must behave in a respectful way to have dignity. And dignity seems to be the often mentioned goal amongst seniors.

    Caregivers have such diverse skills to offer & do so gladly for the most part. Feel positive towards their charges if they feel respected for their contribution to helping provide quality of life to others. Violence against them is too often not discussed.

  2. Julia Schleifer June 3, 2018 Reply

    My husband has dementia. I suffer verbal abuse from him all days morning and night. Whenever he wakes up, he wakes me. If I get a call from a friend he will interrupt my conversation. Last week it was my therapist on the phone who heard everything. When I went to see her she said that he is cruel and intolerant. She wants me to leave him and is helping me look for a place to live. All my friends some who left me told me to leave. When I didn’t one said that I enjoy being abused. I am mentally disabled and can no longer take the abuse. Am tired, stressed, losing weight never laugh anymore. Having bad thoughts about life. I believe I will die before him unless he goes into a home! We are not rich and struggle every month.

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