There are various types of elderly abuse, including physical abuse, neglect, emotional and psychological abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, and verbal abuse. Verbal mistreatment is one of the most common types of abuse in long-term care facilities, and unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult to identify and prove.
Defining Verbal Mistreatment
Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America defines elder mistreatment as “(a) intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder or (b) failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.” Verbal mistreatment often falls under this definition.
According to a report in the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, 38 percent of older adults in their sample reported verbal mistreatment. Of course, the actual number of older adults who are verbally abused is likely much higher; many nursing home residents are too fearful or lack the cognitive/language ability to report abuse.
Types of Verbal Abuse
Verbal mistreatment comes in many forms. It can come from family members, nursing home staff and other caregivers. Any statement made to an elderly person that is meant to cause pain, fear or detriment is considered verbal mistreatment. This includes the following.
- Insults, name calling or profanities
- Yelling and screaming
- Mocking and criticizing
- Threats of harming the resident or his or her family
- Undermining or trivializing concerns or interests and belittling
- Excluding in activities or ignoring
- Preventing the resident from seeing their visitors
Recognizing the Signs of Elder Verbal Mistreatment
Verbal mistreatment can be very hard to spot. If the perpetrator has threatened your loved one, he or she may be too afraid of retaliation to speak up or may just not be able to articulate the abuse. He or she may be too embarrassed or feel too defeated and helpless to say anything or may not want to worry you. You’ll need to be privy to the signs of elder verbal mistreatment and check on your loved one regularly.
If you notice any of the following, it may be an indicator of verbal abuse.
- Withdrawal from activities and socialization
- Being unusually quiet or refusing to answer simple questions
- Avoidance of eye contact, shiftiness and noticeable nervousness
- Changes in weight, hygiene or sleep habits
- Mood swings, irritability or aggression
- Making statements that signal low self-esteem, fear or hopelessness
Dealing with the Effects of Verbal Mistreatment
Verbal mistreatment can have long-lasting, very detrimental effects on an elderly person, and the longer they are mistreated, the more damaging the adverse effects. Verbal abuse can lead to psychological and emotional damage, but it can also weaken their immune system and leave them more susceptible illness and reduce their overall qualify of life.
If you suspect that your loved one is being abused, you will want to try to remove your loved one from the situation as soon as possible. You can report it to the management at the care facility, the local Adult Protective Services, or the Long-term Care Ombudsman. In Olympia, you can call the Agency on Aging at (360) 459-5600.
You may need to get your loved one counseling to deal the damaging effects and to foster healing. If your loved one was victimized by verbal mistreatment, you can speak to an attorney about how to hold the abuser liable. You may qualify to file a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault facility to recover expenses.