caregiver talks to an elderly woman

What is Considered Verbal Abuse in a Nursing Home?

Verbal abuse is one of the most common types of emotional abuse suffered by the elderly who reside in nursing homes. It is a huge transition for the first weeks or months after an elderly or disabled person moves into a nursing home. The individual is likely feeling particularly vulnerable living in a new place, surrounded by new people. It is during this transitional time that verbal abuse can be almost as destructive to the individual’s health as physical abuse. Unfortunately, verbal abuse is all too common in nursing homes, placing the victim at a high risk of psychological damage. Many victims of verbal abuse will say nothing to loved ones either because they fear making the abuse worse, or because they fear they will not be believed.

What Constitutes Verbal Abuse?

Any statements made by nursing home staff that causes fear, distress, embarrassment, or emotional pain to a victim is considered verbal abuse. The most common ways nursing home staff may engage in verbal abuse toward residents include:

  • Insulting a resident
  • Mocking a resident
  • Yelling, shouting, or screaming at a resident
  • Making critical remarks to the resident
  • “Talking down” to a resident, or speaking to him or her like a child
  • Discussing the resident negatively with other residents or staff members
  • Threatening the resident with physical harm
  • Making false accusations against the resident

Why is Verbal Abuse So Common in Nursing Homes?

Nursing staff are the most likely perpetrators of verbal abuse in a nursing home; however, other residents may also engage in verbal abuse. If this is the case, the nursing home is guilty of negligence when they fail to recognize verbal abuse between residents and take the necessary steps to stop the abuse. The most common reasons for verbal abuse by nursing home staff include:

  • Low ratio of staff to residents—Understaffing can be a serious issue in nursing homes—understaffing causes overwork, burnout, and frustration, which, in turn, can cause verbal abuse when the staff interacts with residents.
  • Lack of proper training—Unfortunately, many nursing homes pay low wages, and offer little to no training. In particular, staff must be fully trained in how to deal with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other emotional or physical problems. This lack of training leads to frustration and job challenges the staff is unable to deal with in a constructive manner.
  • Staff burnout—Understaffing, low pay, and lack of training can lead to serious job burnout, leading to verbal abuse of residents.
  • Impatience—Verbal abuse may be perpetrated by a staff member when he or she becomes impatient with a resident and is feeling rushed.
  • Poor screening techniques when hiring staff—Some workers simply have abusive, unpleasant traits that make them poorly equipped to work in a nursing home. Hiring practices must be carefully crafted to weed out those who would prey on the vulnerable.

How Do You Know if Your Loved One Is Being Verbally Abused?

Because nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable, due to emotional and physical limitations, it is especially important that you pay close attention to your loved one—particularly during the first few months. Some signs your loved one is being verbally abused include:

  • Your loved one is uncharacteristically angry or aggressive.
  • Your loved one seems overly agitated.
  • Your loved one seems depressed or anxious.
  • Your loved one appears to be withdrawing from interactions with family, friends, residents, and staff members.
  • Your loved one has stopped sleeping well.
  • Your loved one exhibits fear or excessive nervousness.
  • Your loved one has lost his or her appetite or is exhibiting other issues related to eating.

How Can Verbal Abuse Affect Nursing Home Residents?

Nursing home residents can suffer long-term psychological and emotional damage as a result of verbal abuse. Severe verbal abuse can even cause physical harm as fragile immune systems are further stressed by verbal abuse. While verbal abuse is often considered much less serious than physical or sexual abuse, it can cause significant damage. Nursing home residents can feel isolated, therefore at the mercy of the nursing home staff.

How Can the Finn Law Firm Help When Your Loved One Has Been Verbally Abused?

If you believe your loved one is suffering from verbal abuse in a nursing home—or any other type of abuse—you must first ensure the individual’s safety, even if that means transferring him or her to another facility. Next, you should speak to an experienced nursing home abuse attorney from the Finn Law Firm.

We will investigate the measures in place by the nursing home to safeguard against hiring predators. Attorney Larry Finn will ensure the nursing home is held responsible for the harm done to your loved one, helping you and your loved one through this difficult time. At the Finn Law Firm, we will fight for your rights and for justice. Contact the Finn Law Firm today for a free consultation.


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