Friday, January 14, 2011

Older Adult/ Senior Bullies in Long-Term Care and Senior Communities

Some people wake up and change. Others just roll over. I’m referring to the bullies of our pasts and others who have become older adult bullies. These bullies are now terrorizing residents in long-term care and assisted living facilities, senior centers, and retirement communities around the country.

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.


  1. At 65 and in a retire/disabled community in Idaho Falls i am experiencing bullying ,ostracism,overt criticism,intentional psychological abuse in form of suggesting being watched in community room by placing gummies that read "VIDEO EYE" which reappear after i remove them. The perpetrator is our president for senior community and has gone so far as say "you are different> you do not belong , and if you stay people will make up lies to get you arrested. He is overbearing and forceful in nature, .

  2. James, you do not have to live under these abusive conditions. Be sure to report your concerns to the administrators at your facility. You and your family/friends can meet with them and work toward a resolution.

    If that doesn’t work, contact the Idaho Falls ombudsman program at 208-522-5391. They work to see that rights of older adults are protected. This program is a service of the Area Agency on Aging, a government sponsored agency and part of the the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership at this website:

    This is their address and contact Information:
    Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership
    935 E Lincoln Rd
    Idaho Falls, ID

    Be sure to review this section on their website about adult protection:

    Under Idaho law, they are responsible for investigating allegations of Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation against Idaho's vulnerable disabled and senior populations and working with other agencies toward resolution.

    James, I wish you the best in resolving this matter so you can have the quality of life you deserve.

    Frances Shani Parker

  3. Thanks for share your opinion. Yes, It is the stage when senior required home care , love, attention from their children like they do in the growing period of children. Like coin everything has two sides positive and negative so there is some adults who bulling their senior , so senior must took steps against this rather then keep shut their mouth I really like your article. Your community is doing great job. keep going.

  4. A lot of people can't believe that this could happen in a community of senior citizens, however, I provide assisted living in Suncook NH and can tell you firsthand that this can occasionally be an issue. However, with the right supervision it's possible to avoid situations like this. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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