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Handling Verbally Abusive Residents

Samantha has worked in a long-term care facility for only a few weeks and recently noticed that one of the residents seems angry and makes negative comments when Samantha is giving care. The verbal abuse has been increasing, and Samantha asked her supervisor Fatuma about appropriate ways and strategies to work with the resident.

Fatuma explained that some of the reasons residents are verbally abusive is because they may have mental health issues, suffer from trauma or pain from an injury, or possibly feel anxious or depressed. Fatuma thanked Samantha for coming to her to discuss the situation and suggested the following strategies for handling similar situations.

  • Don’t take anything personally. Although it can be difficult at times, remember that the residents have their own feelings and behaviors, and you are not responsible for their actions.   

  • Try to have the resident tell you why he or she is behaving that way or has that behavior. For example, you could say, “I’m sorry, have I done something to upset you?” or “Help me understand what the problem is.”

  • Practice saying some strong statements to the resident that you will not tolerate inappropriate behavior.  For example, you might say, “I deserve to be treated with respect” or “That is not an appropriate way to speak to me.”

  • Try to offer a distraction. You may have to create a distraction for the resident. For example, you could say, “Please tell me about your family” or “Who is that in the photograph on your wall?”

  • Make notes and document continued abusive behavior. To have detailed information about the verbal abuse is important. If possible, note any other witnesses to the situation.  

  • Let your co-workers know of the situation. Your coworkers may be able to give you strategies to work with different residents.  

  • Review the facility safety plan if a resident becomes physically abusive. Be prepared to notify security or use an alarm if the situation becomes unsafe.

Fatuma reminded Samantha that despite the verbal abuse and negative comments, the job of the nursing assistant is to always provide great care to all residents.  

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© 2015 by Southwest Adult Basic Education

Project made financially possible through grants from:

Southwest Initiative Foundation, Marshall Community Foundation, Southwest Regional Transition Partners, Southwest Adult Basic Education, Marshall Healthcare Partners