Seniors and Bullying

It’s an irony of life that, in many ways, we end as we begin — dependent, spoonfed pureed foods (is Ensure the geriatric Enfamil?), wearing diapers. If it’s true that at a certain point we our lives begin to Benjamin Button, then maybe it’s true that retirement communities are like high school, replete with the ubiquitous resident mean girls.

In a New York Times Op-ed piece this weekend, Jennifer Weiner writes about the bullying behavior her 99-year-old “Nanna” experienced when she first arrived at her new retirement home. In Mean Girls in the Retirement Home, Ms. Weiner describes that Nanna wasn’t allowed to sit at certain dining tables. Nanna wasn’t invited to play bridge. It sounded to Ms. Weiner (and to me) like classic school bullying.

I thought, is senior bullying really a thing? It is.

With more elderly entering senior care centers, retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes, the instances of senior bullying is on the rise. It’s estimated that 10-20% of seniors in these types of communities find themselves objects of bullying by the members of the “controlling group.” Sometimes, residents with dementia will act in a bullying manor out of frustration, anger, and confusion.

Senior-to-senior aggression can be overt or passive-aggressive. Studies show that, much like the bullying found in high school, men tend to be openly abusive, challenging other residents both verbally and physically. Women tend to take part in stereotypical behavior, spreading rumors and ostracizing victims.

Why do seniors engage in bullying? The same reason kids bully. A bully, no matter what age, seeks to control and dominate. Perhaps because they lack power in their own situation, they seek to make themselves feel stronger by making others feel weak and fearful. They also have a lack of empathy.

How do you know if a senior is experiencing bullying? Here are some telltale signs:

  • Isolation
  • Depression
  • Avoidance of certain communal areas
  • Taking circuitous, out-of-the-way routes to get to and from areas
  • Complaints that they are not liked and are not included in activities

Bullying is a form of elder abuse and should not be tolerated. In these instances, a third-party has to get involved. Alert the staff  or on-site social worker if you suspect bullying. If they don’t intervene, contact your state’s long-term care ombudsman to report the abuse. Everyone deserves to live their life with respect in a caring community.

Have you ever experienced senior bullying? What did you do about it? Tell us in the comments.

Quartet is Latest Nursing Home Movie

Maggie Smith, our favorite dowager countess on PBS’ Downton Abbey, is on the big screen this month in Quartet, a film set in a home for retired performers, musicians, and especially opera singers.

Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut is the movie version of a British play of the same name that follows the residents of Beecham House as they prepare for their annual gala concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Ms. Smith plays a diva (what else?) with a caustic tongue and oversized ego, whose arrival at the home reunites her with her former colleagues.



Retirement home movies, if not trending, are proving to be very fashionable at present. Quartet comes on the heels of the wildly popular The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, an ensemble piece starring the aforementioned Dame Maggie Smith, along with Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. That movie took place in an Indian retirement home and followed its residents and their (misguided) hopes and visions of an exciting and luxurious future. And while not finding quite what they expected, they find joy with each other in their less-than five-star accommodations.

Elderly actors in film are nothing new. Christopher Plummer is the oldest Academy Award recipient who, at 82, won a Best Supporting Actor award for his role in the 2010 film Beginners. What is a relatively new phenomenon is the advent of the elderly ensemble cast, where most, if not all, major characters are seniors — seniors who lead a rich and valuable lives. These ensemble pieces are very attractive to a movie-going population who is getting older as well. The movement is being called the “greying of the silver screen” and turn Hollywood’s obsession with youth on its head.

According to Nielsen’s National Research Group, the proportion of oldest moviegoers (65-74) has been steadily growing over the last few years. Great actors are no longer fading into retirement and are bringing their audience into the theaters with them.

Dustin Hoffman, himself now 75, discussed choosing the material, exploring aging and life’s “third act” in the February/March Issue of AARP The Magazine.

“During filming I was saying to everybody in the cast, ‘We’re all in the same act together.’ I always think it’s a three-act play and we’re in the second act—the third act being something that alters you, some infirmity or whatever. And somebody responded, ‘Maybe it’s a Shakespearean play with five acts.’ I liked that. Maybe I’ve got three more acts.”

Log in