Approximately ten percent of elderly Americans that are housed in nursing homes become victims of abuse or neglect. Verbal abuse is one of the most common forms of emotional abuse that occurs in nursing homes. When transitioning to a nursing home, patients are often emotionally vulnerable, and verbal abuse can be as destructive to patients’ health as physical abuse.
Types of Verbal Abuse
Verbal abuse can consist of any statement that is made to a victim with the intention of inflicting emotional pain. Verbal abuse can also be considered bullying. Verbal abuse by nursing home staff is especially detrimental to patients, as the staff is in a position of authority. However, patients may also suffer verbal abuse at the hands of other patients, family members, or even strangers that enter into the nursing home either without authorization or to visit other nursing home residents.
Common types of nursing home verbal abuse against patients include:
- Rude remarks
- Insulting or mocking
- Speaking disdainfully about patients to other staff members
- Accusing and blaming
- Trivializing concerns
Causes of Verbal Abuse
As with other forms of abuse, verbal abuse often stems from frustration or impatience. Nursing home staff or patient’s family members may become frustrated with the patient for the inability to control bodily functions or other issues, and may take this frustration out on the patient. This frustration may manifest as verbal abuse in the form of criticism or mocking.
Impatience is often expressed as verbal abuse in the form of threatening or trivializing the concerns expressed by the patient. Staff members and family members may be pressed for time due to other obligations or staffing issues, and may become impatient when waiting for a patient to eat or perform other tasks. One of the most common situations in which patients are subjected to verbal abuse is while eating. Patients may be threatened with force feeding if the staff or family member does not feel that food is being eaten quickly enough.
Effects of Verbal Abuse
Verbal abuse can cause lasting psychological damage to patients. Patients are often disoriented and emotionally fragile when entering a nursing home and verbal abuse can cause the patient further discomfort. In extreme cases, the stress that comes from the verbal abuse can weaken the patient’s immune system and make the patient susceptible to stress-related illnesses and conditions.
Indications of Verbal Abuse
Verbal abuse may be tougher to spot than other types of abuse, as there are no visible signs. Patients may also be unwilling to expose abusers. This may stem from fear or a desire for attention, even attention of an abusive nature. Since patients are dependent on staff and family members, patients may fear that daily needs will not be met as retaliation if the abuse is exposed.
Signs that may indicate that a patient is being verbally abused include:
- Patient withdrawal from socialization
- Low self esteem or self degradation
- Mood swings
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Hesitance to speak
- Evident fear or hopelessness
- Increased aggression or anger
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in eating times and habits
Prevention of Verbal Abuse
In order to prevent interment into a nursing home in which staff members are verbally abusive, patients and family members should tour nursing homes and interview staff members before making a decision. Once the patient has become a resident, family members should speak with the patient often and be sure to note any changes in the patient’s behavior. Family members should also regularly visit areas of the nursing home in which other residents are being cared for, as abusive staff members will be more likely to engage in verbal abuse when it is believed that no one is observing the abuse.
Responding to Nursing Home Abuse
If it is discovered that a patient has been the victim of verbal abuse in a nursing home, the patient should be removed from the situation immediately. Emotional counseling may help the patient to recover from the damaging effects of the abuse. An attorney may be able to provide guidance for recovering costs associated with counseling or other abuse-related services and for holding the abusive parties responsible.
Hawes, Catherine. “Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America.” NCBI. National Academy of Sciences, n.d. Web. 16 Feb 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK98786/>.
Kusserow, Richard. “Understanding and Preventing Abuse.”Resident Abuse in Nursing Homes. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 16 Feb 2014. <https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-06-88-00360.pdf>.