Friday, January 14, 2011
Older Adult/ Senior Bullies in Long-Term Care and Senior Communities
Welcome to the irony of older adults practicing ageism. The first time I witnessed older adults bullying others was at a senior center where, after a great deal of resistance from members, the age for joining the center had finally been lowered from 62 to 55 years old. Most local senior centers had already lowered their membership age years before this center. Several older members were openly rude to younger members who joined. At lunchtime, I watched them “reserving” tables for their older friends and leaving leftover seating for younger members. I overheard negative comments about “those new young people” stated loudly enough for everyone to hear. I even witnessed an attempt to get a younger member in trouble. I reported all incidents I witnessed to the administration. They said they were “working on the problem, but change takes time.” Unfortunately, many older adults don’t have a lot of time ahead of them. No one should have to spend their golden years being victimized daily by mean-spirited bullies.
These are some hurtful actions of “mature” bullies:
1. Block off seats for their little cliques at mealtimes and events.
2. Criticize, ridicule, and lie about those who don’t meet their standards of acceptance regarding race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, economic background, and any other criteria they condone.
3. Steal and destroy property to flaunt their power and harass victims.
4. Physically abuse victims by pushing, hitting, punching, or kicking them. They sometimes justify this as an “accident.”
A former school principal, I know bullying is a problem that only gets worse when it’s ignored. Too often the victims are vulnerable and defenseless. Some, such as those targeted because of their sexual orientation, become so depressed they commit suicide. Observers are often too afraid themselves to take a stand. The administration must be seriously involved. These are some guidelines that can help solve problems of bullying:
1. Commit to and promote principles of equality and respect for all residents/members.
2. Do a confidential needs assessment on bullying to determine how severe the problem is. General needs assessments should be done annually.
3. Have open discussions involving residents, staff, and community members about bullying, its causes, and solutions. Consultants with expertise in bullying, conflict resolution, diversity, etc. can be especially helpful.
4. Provide extensive staff training in how to handle bullying among themselves and those they serve. Continue to educate residents/members. Victims need the support, and bullies need to be reminded that eliminating bullying is an ongoing priority.
5. Review and change procedures that can decrease the power of bullies. For example, eliminating reserved seating and implementing another seating procedure can prevent bullying cliques from saving blocks of the best seats for themselves.
6. Create and disseminate a zero tolerance policy on bullying along with channels for reporting incidents and resolving them.
7. Keep in mind that the goal is to create a culture where no bullying is the standard embedded in how the institution operates. There must be consistency in implementation and visible recognition of everyone’s dignity and rights.
Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.