** This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as shared with me by a friend who experienced them first hand; used with permission.
Working as a caregiver has its ups and downs. For example, one of my caregiver friends recently shared this story with me about one of her clients. I have previously worked for this particular client, so I was well versed with her verbal assaults. My friend, however, hadn’t had it happen before and was very upset.
For the purposes of verbal assault, we are using this definition found on Wikipedia.
“Verbal abuse is a type of psychological/mental abuse that involves the use of oral, gestured, and written language directed to a victim. Verbal abuse can include the act of harassing, labeling, insulting, scolding, rebuking, or excessive yelling toward an individual. “Wikipedia
This particular client had sat my friend down to “talk to her,” and she verbally assaulted her, pointing her finger at her and yelling at her for a variety of things that were out of my friend’s control. My friend couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and the other family members present couldn’t slow this woman down either. So finally, everyone just let the woman rant until she ran out of words. This took approximately twenty minutes.
At that point, my friend told her client to stop yelling at her and blaming her for things that were out of her control. The client insisted she hadn’t yelled at my friend and wasn’t blaming her. My friend felt it best to leave as soon as possible and made a graceful exit from her client that day.
I reminded my friend that as caregivers, we often have to separate ourselves from the action and learn to respond, not react. My friend agreed but still needed a break from this client. I could completely understand her perspective as this client had recently done the same for me.
Her case manager and the rest of her care team were notified. Yet, the woman continues to act as if nothing happened because, in her mind, it didn’t. Caregiving is a job that isn’t boring. It can be very challenging and very rewarding all at the same time. But, it’s never the same from one minute to another.
There are many reasons that clients may lose control and start yelling at someone. It’s important to listen as much as possible without judgment. It’s never an easy task. My friend handled things well by removing herself from the situation. She didn’t do anything but listen and focus on the client. Then, my friend left the client’s house. When my friend returned a few days later, the client didn’t mention the blowup at all. Neither did my friend. Perhaps in her mind, the client was simply venting some frustrations. She may have been unaware that she was verbally abusive and viciously attacking everyone around her.
Sometimes we have to ignore behaviors. Sometimes, we have to learn to walk away. This doesn’t excuse or condone the behavior, but it does help to lessen the impact on caregivers and family members. My friend and I sometimes have to look at caregiving as if we’re watching a toddler. Of course, we don’t treat elderly clients like that, but we must tread carefully regarding some of their behaviors. We’ve learned to pick our battles in order to “win the war.” What is your caregiving horror story? Have you had a client blow up at you over nothing?