Verbal Abuse is Not Loving Caregiving for Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

This article from Science Daily about verbal abuse and its negative influence on the quality of life among the elderly really struck a nerve in me. This is one of my soapbox issues about the care, the honor, the respect – and the increasingly appalling lack of it – we as a society give to the elderly among us.

The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is the one of the most pervasive lies that’s been perpetrated since it was first said in an old English nursery rhyme. The reality is that physical pain heals to one degree or another, but the pain of verbal abuse never heals. Words, once spoken, remain with us until we draw our last breaths.

Just because our loved ones may be experiencing dementias, Alzheimer’s Disease, or other age-related illnesses that impair them neurologically and/or physically does not mean they are oblivious or immune to the tone, the quality, and the veracity of our words.

That is why I wrote “Is It Ever Okay To Be Dishonest With Our Loved Ones Suffering With Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease?” condemning ever being dishonest with our loved ones, a practice often advised when dealing with our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

I caught a lot of flak for that post and got a lot of excuses and justifications (just an FYI: if you have to make excuses and justify behavior, then it’s a good sign that it’s wrong and you know it’s wrong and you are consciously choosing to do what is wrong anyway) as to why being dishonest was okay.

going gentle into that good night verbal abuse elderly unacceptable behaviorIt did not and does not change my position and the reality that being dishonest is not okay ever. Dishonesty is a moral failing at its core (we should strive never to be dishonest with anyone about anything), but it is an equally unacceptable form of verbal abuse for our loved ones suffering with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dishonesty is just as much verbal abuse as yelling, demeaning, cursing, and talking about our loved ones as if they weren’t there. Even if they don’t understand the full meaning (and really, who knows how much intuition and understanding is there, but inaccessible in terms of articulation?), our loved ones still react to and fear verbal abuse. Just like each of us does.

Be kind. Be gentle. Put yourself in their shoes and ask “how would I want to be treated if this was me?” Be honest, but do it with love and tenderness. Let your tone always be one that comforts them. It takes effort. It takes self-control.

Sometimes it takes deep breaths and counting to whatever number you have to until you’re ready. That’s on each of us. Because we know better and can do better, while our loved ones don’t and can’t, especially with neurological deterioration.

I’ve been in enough nursing homes and assisted living facilities to see a lot of verbal abuse up close and personally.

It triggers a protective nerve in me that makes me want to go up to those who are doing it and say “You want to pick on someone? Bring it on. But don’t you EVER speak to any of these people, who could be your father, mother, grandfather, or grandmother like this!”

If I could save everyone who has ever experienced this at the hands of a caregiver, I would.

I can’t. But I urge all of us make sure we’re not guilty.

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