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Emotional and Psychological Abuse in Nursing Homes

A Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Explains How Psychological Abuse Is Often the First Step Toward Criminal Acts

It is no secret that some nursing home residents are victims of physical and emotional abuse and that, in many of these cases, this abuse is preceded by a period of psychological “preparation.” In today’s post, the nursing home abuse lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will discuss an under-appreciated form of such emotional/psychological abuse known as “gaslighting” and will offer suggestions to family members on when to suspect that gaslighting has been used to influence important decisions made by nursing home residents.

Although the term “gaslighting” has entered general use only relatively recently, its name is generally accepted as coming from the 1944 film Gaslight where the plot revolves around a husband’s attempt to convince his wife that she is going insane. However, many of the fictional husband’s psychological devices are now recognized by clinical psychologists as being used by financial, psychological, and physical abusers of our elderly family members.

What is gaslighting?

In its most general definition, gaslighting means the deliberate use of tactics that are intended to deceive the victim into believing that the victim is losing their intellectual and/or emotional well-being to dementia or some other neurological/psychological disease process. Once the victim is convinced that he or she is incapable of managing their personal (usually meaning “financial”) affairs, the abuser will offer to “help” the victim with such concerns. In practically all such cases, this “help” leads to the rapid depletion of any assets that the victim may own, including bank accounts and personal property that can be conveniently converted to cash.

How does gaslighting work in a healthcare care setting?

There are so many techniques that can be used in gaslighting that it is more informative to describe the situations where it is most likely to occur. In healthcare settings, such situations or scenarios generally have several factors in common.

  • 1. The victim is undergoing emotional distress related to changes in the victim’s lifestyle.
  • Most gaslighting begins shortly after the victim enters an extended care environment such as a nursing home or assisted living facility. Another common factor in gaslighting is that the victim’s spouse has recently died or has become incapacitated.
  • 2. The victim is relatively disconnected from external emotional support or informational sources such as family and friends.
  • Being placed in an extended care / assisted living facility or similar changes in social activity invariably affects the victim’s ability to receive outside information that would “disconfirm” what the abuser is saying.
  • 3. The abuser is in a position of authority over the victim, or is perceived to be so, and is thus seen as having the power to punish or reward the victim.
  • Once gaslighting becomes effective, the victim may try to win the abuser’s approval by accepting the abuser’s claims as factual.
  • 4. The abuser is able to control access to information about the victim, particularly information that may disprove the falsehoods used by the abuser or lead to discovery of the abuser’s gaslighting.

A favorite tactic of gaslighters is to convince the victim, and the victim’s visitors, that the victim “gets confused” or “is having trouble remembering things.” Not only does this reinforce the abuser’s lies, it also insulates the abuser from detection by other institutional staff members or the victim’s family.

How are gaslighting and other forms of abuse possible in extended care facilities?

To understand the “how and why” of gaslighting, it should be recalled that the typical victim is usually undergoing emotional stress that arises from some condition that requires the victim’s placement in an extended care or similar facility. Such emotional conflict is natural and, in most cases, resolves with the adjustment of the victim to his or her new environment. Abusers are aware of these stresses and will often target their victims based on how fast these emotional conflicts are being resolved, with those exhibiting slower adjustments becoming the most promising targets for gaslighting.

Many assisted living / extended care facilities are chronically understaffed and rely on non-professional (i.e. nursing assistants or nursing techs) patient care staff to provide routine care. This means that abuse can be concealed from supervisory personnel unless such supervisors follow accepted practices for monitoring non-professional employees. If supervisors fail to follow such nationally-accepted monitoring practices, both the supervisor and the employer may be found guilty of negligence.

How a nursing home abuse lawyer may help gaslighting victims

It is important to remember that gaslighting, in and of itself, is not a crime. It may, however, be used to establish a pattern of deliberate behavior on the part of the abuser in lawsuits filed against the abuser / abuser’s employer which seek the recovery of assets stolen by the abuser. However, abusers can still face criminal prosecution for crimes such as identity theft, robbery, or forgery.

Those suspecting that a family member may have been a victim of gaslighting, or any other type of intentional emotional or psychological abuse, are invited to contact the nursing home abuse lawyer at the Doan Law Firm, a nationwide law practice handling nursing home abuse lawsuits.

When your contact our nursing home abuse lawyer, your initial consultation and case review is always free of any charge to you and does not obligate you to hire our firm to represent you if you decide to file a nursing home abuse lawsuit. Should you decide that we should act as your legal counsel in such a lawsuit, we will assume full responsibility for preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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