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.

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