Adult Protective Services: Verbal Abuse
Verbal abuse is a very common form of abuse. Most people have been subjected to it at some point in their lives. Verbal abuse typically takes place when one person yells at another person, knowing that the yelling will make the other person feel hurt, afraid, intimidated or threatened.
Verbal abuse is not just limited to yelling. An angry adult daughter that whispers swear words while she cleans her mother isn’t yelling, but she’s being verbally abusive if her mother hears her. The frustrated son that mocks his elderly father’s stammer is being verbally abusive. Verbal abuse takes place when the caregiver scolds an elderly client for soiling herself, and causes the client to feel ashamed. Put downs are abusive, as is name calling. Threats that cause the elder to feel fear of harm or loss are abusive.
Sometimes, what appears to be verbal abuse to one person turns out to be something that is a part of the family culture of the elder and isn’t abusive to him/her. The feelings of the person that was subjected to the potential verbal abuse will largely determine whether it was abusive or not.
What would you do if you saw someone screaming at an elderly person to hurry up? What if your elderly neighbor complains to you about how her daughter swears when the elder needs a ride to the store? What would you do if you learned that a relative always makes fun of their elderly parent after a few beers?
Most people try using a common sense approach, and talk to the abuser about the verbal abuse. Much of the time, when a person is spoken to about their verbally abusive behavior, they stop. When they don’t stop, APS workers can be called upon to see what can be done to resolve the problem.
In Oregon, APS workers have a number of tools to help with. The goal is to address the problem in a manner that the elderly person wants. Sometimes a mediation style meeting is needed. Sometimes a mental health worker visits with the APS worker to address underlying issues. Sometimes what is needed is a restraining order to stop all communication between the offender and the elder.
Every case is a little different. An APS worker might simply help outline boundaries in one case, but use a combination of different tools for the second case. The third case might take one visit, but the fourth case might need ongoing monitoring.
Do you know the phone number to call to report the possible abuse of an elderly person? In Oregon, each county has APS workers that respond to reports of abuse. The phone numbers are listed under the Oregon State Government website. Each state has a similar website. In Oregon, the identity of callers is kept confidential, but anonymous calls are also accepted.
Verbal abuse is a horrible thing to have to live with, but many elders endure it daily. A phone call to APS might help to end the abuse, and increase the quality of an elderly person’s life. Take the time to locate the phone number to your local APS office. You might never have to use it, but hopefully you will if the situation arises.
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