Abuse can be present in a variety of ways. While we often think first of physical abuse when we hear the term, verbal mistreatment can be just as damaging. Seniors around the country unfortunately may be all too familiar with the effects that insults and intimidation can have.
In a study performed by Northeastern University, where seniors were asked to respond to questions by touching a computer screen for enhanced privacy, surveyed individuals shared information based on how they are treated by the person that helps them most with their care. The caregiver could be a family member or paid professional. Sample questions included, “How often in the past year did someone insult or swear at you?” and “How often did someone threaten to hit or throw something at you?” One hundred and forty-two older patients at a large academic medical center in New York participated. Research results were presented at the Gerontological Society of America’s annual meeting, held recently in New Orleans.
Out of the surveyed seniors, who on average were about 75 years old, 38% reported at least one incident of verbal cruelty from their primary caregiver over the course of the past year. Verbal insults, forms of humiliation, and intimidating threats are considered to be forms of elder abuse; however these cases are often overlooked if incidences do not involve physical harm or misuse of the patient’s finances.
Determining whether a senior is verbally mistreated can be a challenge. Questions arise as to whether a onetime incident where a caregiver loses their patience and yells something they later regret is a form of abuse. If a senior participates in a war of insults by throwing back some of their own are they a victim? And in some cases, a senior might be oversensitive and feel they are being mistreated when they are not while others are not fazed by being yelled at on a regular basis. After all, we are all human with our own personalities and moments of vulnerability. Because of a lack of standardized definitions, it is difficult to come up with a statistics about how common verbal abuse of the elderly is.
Even with a fine line between repeated abuse and a onetime incident, any form of verbal mistreatment can be damaging. The group of seniors surveyed by Northeastern University who reported being yelled or sworn or at or threatened over the past year had significantly lower functioning in social situations. Their mental health was poorer than the group with no reported verbal mistreatment as well.
It is no secret that care giving can place enormous strain on a person, but verbal mistreatment is NEVER a solution. Experts urge those feeling strained and who are prone to snap at a loved one to seek help, either by joining a caregiver support group or by talking to a therapist, physician, social worker, etc.
Another source of support that can make a big difference in the stress being felt by a caregiver is respite care. Respite care gives overworked caregivers time to step outside the home to either run those errands they never seem to have time for, or to take a much needed break that includes quality relaxation time. Caregivers return to their responsibilities feeling refreshed and more in control of their emotions. Contact MAS Home Care of New Hampshire today to learn more.
If you or someone you know is being abused, please click here to find the number for your state’s elder abuse hotline.