Verbal Elder Abuse

Here’s a great piece I found in Tuesday’s New York Times about how damaging it can be to the elderly to be spoken down to by health care professionals. Now, I think health workers have a rough, tough job. But this is a pet peeve of mine from my own dad’s hospitalization.

My Parents on My Wedding Day

My Parents on My Wedding Day

It’s bad enough that the hospital workers, nurses, doctors, etc., yell at him when they speak. My dad has some problems, but his hearing is perfect, and I see my father recoiling. The demeaning language has consequences, and I’m glad to see it written about with some credibility.

I have my own anecdotes regarding poor behavior. A few years ago, my dad was in the hospital because he had gotten dizzy and a friend took him to the ER. Mistake number one. It is better to stay out of the hospital.

The staff at this particular hospital were not even on duty when I found my dad strapped to the hospital bed after a night or two of being there, his eyes wide-open and fearful. I said, “What the hell is going on?” The nurse said, “We had to strap your dad down. He is a bad boy.” I complained to the head nurse, who said, “Well, we had to – he was a bad boy.” The nurses used the term “bad boy” so many times I wanted to bitch-slap them.

Long story short, he wanted to leave, would get up, and they’d yell “bad boy” at him, which made him only more determined to leave. I complained to the doctor. I said they had given him medicine that was harming him, as was the treatment. The doctor didn’t think so. They gave medicine to him to “control” him. “He’s only calm if your family members are here.” So I said, “Then we aren’t leaving him.” My sister and I were present, took off the straps and called my mom and our other sister. I said that we had to stand watch and guard him while whatever they gave him passed.

And so we did (my dear mom taking the overnight shift). Within 24 hours, he was 100 percent back to his normal self. He didn’t need to be drugged or to be there at all – no one wants to be treated like a misbehaving child. This is especially true when that person is an older adult, frightened about where they are.

After that experience, we learned that if he goes into the hospital one of us has to go with him. Maybe we do not have to be there 24/7, but checking in as frequently as possible.

I’m going to be checking my own “sweetie” remarks today.

8 thoughts on “Verbal Elder Abuse

  1. Great point! What people often don’t realize is that speaking to a confused elderly person in a condescending tone and not validating how they are feeling (whether it is rational or not) will most often only exacerbate the behavior and escalate the problem. Good for your dad that he has someone advocating and watching out for him. To many seniors don’t.

  2. Oh…how heartbreaking. The hosp staff over dosed my g’ma so she would sleep and leave them alone. She used to be a caregiver herself for the eldery in their homes so in her confused mind she wanted to get up and help others.
    We thought she was deing! We called everyone in for her last moments and then when the meds wore off she was back to herself. I was SO PISSED OFF!! It’s so scary!!

  3. Thanks all. God, so many stories like this. My friends book who I blogged about, Mary Ellen Geist “measure of the heart”. she too talks about how if she had not stayed with her dad during his knee surgery he would have died.
    I feel that America is like other countries I have heard about for years, in South America, etc. Where it is expected that a family member has to go with the patient into the hospital.
    And again, there are many great health professionals, super ones. But, it still pisses me off that they would speak to and treat my dad like that.

  4. Reading this has my emotions all in a bundle. Thank you for bringing this subject to the forefront! Such treatment has me absolutely enraged! I can’t imagine my folks being treated in such a manner. Your family is precious and blessed that you can all stick together for each other. God Bless You!

  5. Kelley, bless your heart. I do feel so lucky to have my family. Don’t know what hell it must be for people who grow old alone and or without resources. So grateful my dad has his pension, savings, etc.

  6. I spent 3 months in the hospital two years ago and most of the time I was treated respectfully – most of the nurses I had were about my age (34 at the time) so there was more of a peer-to-peer relationship. However, post one of my major surgeries, my husband was kept from me by a nurse who kept insisting that “I was a baby” – even though this “baby” was tracking her bloodwork numbers and communicating in full sentences despite being on high doses of painkillers, steroids and on a ventilator.

    Most healthcare workers are amazing – but you have to be watchful for yourself and for your loved ones. Keep fighting for their respect.

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