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Seniors can be bullies too

Today, we often read about suicides of young people caused in part by cyberbullying. Less attention is paid to another category of bullies: those with gray hair, false teeth, hearing aids and canes.

I often hear that residents of facilities or visitors to senior events are also bullied. According to an expert, between 10 to 20 percent of residents of senior living facilities are mistreated by their peers. Many incidents of name-calling, bossy behavior, loud arguments, exclusion or “cliques” and, most extreme, physical violence is reported.

It is very hard for a senior to step up and say something has happened. Many people I talk to refer to it as the middle school years all over again. Senior bullying tends to take place in senior centers or nursing homes or assisted living facilities, places where they are spending a lot of time together and need to share resources, whether it be chairs, tables or TV time.

Both men and women can bully, but women tend toward passive-aggressive behavior like gossiping and whispering about people when they enter a room while men are more “in your face.” Sometimes seniors argue over something as trivial as a coveted spot at the dinner table.

In some cases, dementia is responsible for violence or outbursts. Some dementia patients perceive things as threatening when they are not really threatening at all. That is part of the disease process. Other times, it is the people with dementia who are picked on. Some will berate people for dropping food on their clothes or even dropping their fork at the dinner table. Again, dementia patients will forget where they are supposed to sit or eat.

Fear can be one reason for bullying. However, it is also the human phenomenon of the strong picking on the weak. There is a tendency for people to become more and more unique as they age. Chances are, if you were kind of a nasty, selfish person throughout your adulthood, you are probably not going to turn into the kind little old grandma type when you get old.

So, how do we stop this? The best way to prevent it is intervention. Third party bystanders are part of the problem. If you see this happening, get involved. Go to the staff, if you are at a facility, or intervene if you are out in public. Speak up the same way you would if it was happening to a child.

Sometimes people are not sure what to do because the bully might be impaired or have some type of dementia. Still, you need to intervene. Change the subject or separate the parties.

Remember, though, some people are just cranky; that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bully. People, especially those in facilities, are often in pain and that makes them uncomfortable all the time. In the words of the Tim McGraw song, “Always be humble and kind.”

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