Psychological abuse is one of the most common type of abuse reported to the AEA helpline (LINK). 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 can also involve coercive control, which is a crime in England and Wales. This can include the abuser preventing their victim from having friendships or hobbies, refusing them access to money and determining many aspects of their everyday life, such as when they are allowed to eat, sleep and go to the toilet.

It is rare for psychological/emotional abuse to happen in isolation and often it is linked to financial and other forms of abuse or harm. Another term for psychological abuse would be intimidation. 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.

  • HelplessnessWorried old man
  • 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  • Extremely withdrawn and non communicative or non responsive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