When we think of bullying, many times we think of adolescents in middle school and high school. These “Mean Girls” or bullies make life impossible for the victim. There is another demographic that we need to bring attention to in this day and age which it may come to a surprise to you.
Bullying is defined as patterns of deliberately harming and humiliating others. 10 to 20 percent of senior citizens have experienced being bullied by their peers. It happens to both men and women. Senior bullying in a structured environment such as an assisted living or other care facility can make an already stressful transition even harder.
In a community where there are a lot of staff members, there may be a better chance of someone stepping in when a situation arises. Many times, when someone is bullied and there is no one around to witness, an incident could cause someone to be afraid to report such a situation. According to a study conducted at Arizona State University, “this behavior is more common in institutions such as nursing homes, assisted livings where people are forced to not only spend a lot of time together in close proximity but also have to share limited resources such as sofas, games, televisions and particularly staff attention.”
It happens in group activities, at mealtime and even the elevator or simply when someone is just walking down the hall. Just like cliques form in middle school and high school, the same happens in senior living communities and senior groups.
I have personally witnessed this phenomenon for the past 20 years. I’ve seen it in friendly bingo games where someone got angry because a peer didn’t hear the numbers called. I’ve seen women cliques whisper about another peer’s clothing or shoes or the fact that they didn’t have family to visit. I have seen men call other men weak and annoying and be threatened with violence. These incidents are not new, but a new awareness on bullying is a trending issue in our society.
You can help if you see such an action or incident occur. If you see something, say something. Most bullies are most comfortable with their own behaviors when they have power over someone else. Intervention helps weaken and take away the power of a senior who bullies others.
The victim is typically the senior who will need help in that situation, but sometimes the bully is also in need of some help. Perhaps there are emotional situations that they are dealing with that are causing them to display these intimidating behaviors to others. Perhaps it is a sign of cognitive decline that needs its own intervention.
Many assisted livings and care centers have policies in place to protect the person who is being bullied. I urge everyone to lead with kindness in their own day-to-day. If you see a friend or a loved one who may be dealing with someone bullying them, be especially kind to them and assure them that they can report the situation and there are people to listen and assist.
Kindness can make a difference. In the words of Scott Adams, “Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness . Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”