Monday, July 9, 2018

Bullying in Older Adult Communities (Staff Research, LGBT Video 4:55)

These are a few incidents I have witnessed or personally experienced from some bullies in older adult communities. At mealtimes and special events, I have observed residents selfishly saving empty seats for their friends who may or may not even come and denying seating choices to those who are already present when they request an empty seat. As a visitor one day, I was denied seating at an older adult community at four different tables, each with two or three empty chairs. Poor welcome. I have also experienced this as a member. A simple solution to this problem is to have groups who want to sit together wait until all group members arrive and are seated at the same time without saving seats. When implemented consistently, this system works well. 

While I was a member at a senior center that had years of resistance by members over age 62 convincing management not to allow members 55- 61years old to join (unlike most centers in this metro-area), a woman I did not know stood outside my bathroom stall screaming, “People under 62 are not welcome here! Go home!” I have reported these and other bullying incidents I witnessed among residents to facility administrators who generally responded they were “working on the problem.” I have advised residents to seek help from an ombudsperson, family members, and friends. An ombudsperson is a government official who hears and investigates complaints by private citizens against other officials or government agencies.

Staff members who work in older adult communities also observe resident-to-resident bullying. This research on bullying is based on interviews with 45 long-term care staff members who reported the following:

1. Verbal bullying was the most observed type of bullying, but social bullying was also prevalent.

2. Victims and perpetrators were reported to commonly have cognitive and physical disabilities.

3. More than half of staff participants had not received formal training and only 21% reported their facility had a formal policy to address bullying.

The results above emphatically support the need for detailed policies and training programs for staff to effectively intervene when bullying occurs.

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 residents, such as those targeted because of their sexual orientation, have become so depressed they have attempted or committed 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.

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.

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. In the following video, Martha Wetzel, an older adult lesbian, shares her story about being targeted by bullies in a long-term-care setting because of her sexual orientation. She ultimately sued the facility.

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.

Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog


  1. This is a real eye-opener, but not totally surprising. People don't necessarily let go of their biases just because they get older, and bullying, bigotry and condescension can occur at any age. I applaud this woman for bringing suit.

  2. AnonymousJuly 10, 2018

    This is important information with helpful advice. I agree tht bullying against seniors should be zero tolerance!

  3. Reaching our senior years is no guarantee that bullying and abuse will not occur. It is a strange and unfortunate facet of human nature that some of us feel the need to look down on others, expressing our narrow views by shunning, bullying or shaming others. I applaud Marsha for bringing suit against the people who showing this unkind and intolerable behavior.

  4. Sad to know that this happens and happened with you also; We are 2018 we must act responsible each one of us; you have mentioned correctly that if one wants to sit with their team, they should arrive together and sit, one person should block the seat for them;
    i would also say choose you active adult community by researching properly Bluestone Creek

    1. It is so important for everyone to feel welcome in a place they call "home." Depression is very unhealthy.