Bullies in the Nursing Home
Most of us will remember some form of bullying from the high school cafeteria – but do you expect to encounter it in the dining room of a nursing home?
According to a recent article in the New York Times, when it comes to social interactions in assisted living facilities, “older” doesn’t necessarily mean “more mature” and social bullying is a phenomenon that can extend into old age. As Marsha Frankel, the clinical director of senior services at Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Boston puts it, “What happens to mean girls? Some of them go on to become mean old ladies.”
Some examples of the “senior bullying” described in the article include:
- Attempting to monopolize communal space (such as by insisting on choosing the t.v. channel and trying to control who sits where);
- Excluding others from social situations (such as by claiming a seat is being saved when it’s not, so as to avoid sitting with someone else); and
- Being generally nasty (such as by insulting others or by being intolerant of cultural or religious differences).
While cognitive impairment, such as from dementia, can be an underlying cause of bullying, it is not always the reason. More frequently, it is because the older people are at a point in life where they feel powerless (not unlike adolescence) and bullying can provide a sense of control and acquiring power.
In some cases, the victims of the bullying are able to shrug it off – but in other cases it can have a very detrimental effect on their well being. Seniors are often in very vulnerable stages of their lives and living in a care facility while being the object of bullying can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression as well as encourage withdrawal from social situations.
Dealing with the problem of bullying is complicated. According to the article, “caring community” workshops make little difference. However, apparently encouraging staff to intervene as when bullying occurs and teaching seniors to be more proactive in standing up for themselves has been helpful.