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Verbal abuse activates same brain circuits as physical abuse

Elder abuse takes many forms. Some abuse is physical, while other instances of abuse are verbal. Traditionally, many people have brushed off verbal abuse as being less important than physical abuse. However, studies of the human brain have shown that they’re actually very similar.

One scientist decided to look into it with neuroimaging. They conducted multiple experiments to measure how the brain reacted to these different types of stimulation. By looking at the brain circuitry that was activated during physical pain, the scientists found that it was the same as that which was activated through social exclusion.

We know from more traditional sources that people hate exclusion — which comes with verbal abuse — and will go to great lengths to avoid it. There’s a reason people work so hard to fit in and try to find others that they can socialize with. This is true at all ages.

What these studies show, though, is that failing to feel included and accepted is the same as feeling physical pain. That’s the reality of elderly abuse and neglect. When an elderly person is verbally assaulted or cut off from contact with others and put into isolation, the impact on the brain is the same as if they were being physically abused.

It’s time to stop thinking that one type of abuse is worse than the other. It is very clear that any type of abuse can have a massive negative impact on a person’s life. If you think that one of your loved ones is being abused in a nursing home or an assisted living center, make sure you know what legal steps to take.


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