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Handling hurtful words

Columnist Bill Herr taught high school mathematics and science for 32 years before serving as a volunteer and then as a staff chaplain at two nursing homes.  

By Bill Herr

One of the most difficult things in life is to forgive someone that wrongs us with words or actions. In the nursing home almost all residents were kind to staff members and other residents. 

Yet some of the kindest ones were hard on immediate members of their families. They would naturally rather live in their own home than in a nursing home. If family members are instrumental in the decision to move a loved one to the nursing home due to health issues or age, there is a tendency to hold family members responsible for feelings of dissatisfaction.



In the case of residents with dementia, they can make interactions with staff members unpleasant. For staff members or family members, how should they react when treated badly by a resident?

One day I was walking in the hall at the nursing home and witnessed an aide leaving a room. She was clearly very pregnant and her face was white as a sheet.  She was obviously distressed. She said, “The resident told me she hoped I would lose my baby.”  

Whatever the aide had been doing with the resident disturbed her and she lashed out with those hurtful words. The aide reacted the correct way by ignoring what was said and left the room.

It takes patience and understanding and perspective in dealing with residents who lash out because of their discomforts. They may be having difficult times in dealing with situations they no longer have control of.  The only defense they may have to express themselves might be a verbal response that is totally inappropriate due to frustration.  

In this example, the young aide was wronged severely by the resident’s hurtful words, but she chose not to retaliate. This was the right thing to do. I admired her for it.