The Frustrated Patient: How to Understand and Help


Article Categories: Caregiver Corner & Basic Skills



Adam, a 63-year old retired teacher, keeps going to see his doctor because of his pain and fatigue. After weeks and months of tests and laboratory procedures, the doctor still could not find what’s wrong with him. He met with other physicians, too. During the first few weeks, he was very patient in waiting for his turn to be seen. He answered all of the nurses’ and doctors’ questions. He willingly underwent procedures. He took medications as prescribed, but the fatigue seemed to worsen instead of getting better.

In his succeeding visits, his impatience becomes apparent. He started raising his voice and demanded more from his doctors. With no relief and no concrete explanation from the healthcare team, he started screaming, “You’re all incompetent!”

Adam is frustrated. And a frustrated patient is an upset patient, who would likely be an angry one when their concerns remain unaddressed.

There are many patients like Adam. Nursing assistants like yourself must learn to deal with their frustrations before it escalates into anger and other negative emotions.

How to understand and help a frustrated patient

1. Try to determine the source of the frustration.

Unless the healthcare team explores the very cause of the patient's frustration, it will be hard to pacify them. Patients become exasperated for these usual reasons:

a. They feel ignored and taken for granted.

When patients feel unheard, they start negatively asserting themselves. They may turn to verbal abuse. They tend to find more things to be angry about, which adds to their list of things not going their way.

One of your jobs as a CNA is to listen to them and find out why they feel unimportant. It is in such situations where your role as an advocate will come in handy. Advocating for your patient means reaching out so that you can relay their message to the right people more clearly.

Another way ease the patient’s heavy burden is to get them involved in their own care and in making decisions regarding their health. Provide choices whereby possible.

b. There is little or no progress in treatment or diagnosis.

Patients lose their cool when their complaints remain unexplained. They get distressed when their health condition does not improve or even worsens amidst medical treatment. And it’s quite understandable when this happens.

As a CNA, you can see to their comfort and meet their other health needs. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and recognize their ordeal.

c. They have difficulty adjusting to a loss of a bodily function.

A patient’s frustration can also easily stem from their inability to function as normally as before. As they lose their independence, it leads to hopelessness and depression.

You can show more empathy as a nursing assistant by helping your patient with their activities of daily living. Make them feel good about themselves, too.

2. Calm yourself.

Dealing with patient frustration is not an easy task. You may get yelled at and be the object of their resentment. It's important to control one's emotions so that you can still be an efficient CNA.

3. Don’t give up.

Frustrated patients are challenging to deal with and it is tempting to give up and ignore them altogether. But that just brings you back to problem number one, which is where patients start feeling disregarded. And the vicious cycle continues.

Frustration in a patient is a complicated matter that has lasting negative effects. If the patients’ concerns are not addressed in the right way, they may stop being cooperative. The patient may abruptly discontinue their medications and other treatments. At its worst, they may abandon all hopes of getting better, slip into depression, and be in a worse condition than they are already in.

Patients need more support during these difficult times and CNAs can be instrumental in finding solutions to ease their burdens.

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