How to Recognize Verbal Abuse in Nursing Homes

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Nursing homes are intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for those who are unable to continue living independently. Unfortunately, these facilities can create a breeding ground for verbal abuse with poor staffing practices. 

About Verbal Abuse in Nursing Homes

Nurses, nursing assistants, and orderlies who care for the elderly are subject to high levels of job-related stress. Having shifts with inadequate breaks, feeling unsupported by management, lacking training, or having too many residents to safely care for at one time can make a care provider feel frustrated and angry—creating an environment that's ripe for nursing home abuse.

Verbal abuse in nursing homes can take many different forms. For example:

  • Yelling at a resident who is moving too slowly or refusing to cooperate with staff
  • Making rude remarks about a resident’s physical or cognitive disabilities
  • Insulting or mocking a resident to "punish" him for bad behavior
  • Accusing or blaming a resident for conduct that isn't his fault, such as incontinence
  • Trivializing a resident's concerns about his health
  • Threatening a resident with physical harm
  • Mocking or speaking disdainfully about a resident to other staff members

In some cases, verbal abuse may be perpetrated by another resident as opposed to an employee of the facility. However, nursing homes have a legal and moral obligation to protect all of their residents. Verbal abuse is a crime regardless of whether the abuser is an employee.

Signs of Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse doesn't leave physical scars, but its effects can be emotionally devastating. Signs a nursing home resident may be a victim of verbal abuse include:

  • Changes in daily routine, sleeping patterns, and/or eating habits
  • Lack of interest in socialization with other residents, friends, or family members
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings or angry outbursts
  • Expressing feelings of fear or hopelessness
  • Refusing to make eye contact
  • Being hesitant to speak around nursing home staff
  • Begging visitors not to leave

You should report any suspected verbal abuse to the nursing home's management immediately. If the administrative staff fail to address your concerns or respond by attempting to restrict your right to visit with your loved one privately, this behavior should be taken as an indication that abuse is a widespread part of the facility's culture. In this case, you would want to initiate a transfer to another nursing home immediately.

Link Between Verbal Abuse and Physical Abuse

In many cases, verbal abuse of nursing home residents progresses to physical abuse. When the factors that triggered the verbal abuse aren't stopped, staff can progress to hitting, kicking, shoving, slapping, pinching, or shaking residents. Broken bones, internal bleeding, and other serious health problems can result. One study found that physically abused nursing home residents had a 300% higher risk of death.

Preventing Elder Abuse

Being actively involved in a loved one's care is the best way to reduce the risk of elder abuse, since seniors who are isolated and don't have access to a strong support system make easy targets for frustrated and angry care providers. It's also vital that you listen to your loved one's concerns and address all issues promptly. Do not brush off a description of a troubling incident as the product of a confused mind or overactive imagination.

If you find evidence to suggest that your loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse, seek the assistance of a skilled attorney immediately. An attorney experienced in cases involving elder abuse can help you seek compensation for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Violations of the resident's dignity
  • Funeral costs

A nursing home resident who lacks the mental capacity to participate in legal action will need a guardian ad litem (GAL) appointed to act on his behalf. In most cases, this is a spouse, adult child, or close family member. However, the court can appoint a GAL when no family member is available.

To learn more about seeking compensation for nursing home abuse, please contact Neblett, Beard & Arsenault to schedule a free, no-obligation case review. You can also call us directly at 800.256.1050.


William S. Neblett
Attorney William Neblett practices personal injury, maritme, medical malpractice and nursing home abuse law.