We welcome back guest writing Jess Walter to The Purple Jacket.
When most people think of bullying, they automatically picture children picking on other children. However, some bullies don’t outgrow their bad habits — even in old age. Senior bullying is a growing phenomenon; 10 to 20 percent of nursing home residents report being bullied by their peers. Though the problem has been around for years, it’s only recently that caregivers have started getting training on how to recognize the signs of senior bullying and how to intervene.
What Does Senior Bullying Look Like?
Bullying among seniors looks a lot like bullying among younger age groups, manifesting in different ways. It can involve physical abuse, verbal bullying (such as name-calling and taunting), or more subtle interactions like social ostracizing and gossiping. However, it’s important to note that not all combative behavior is bullying. Some individuals lash out when they’re frustrated or upset, especially when they are no longer able to communicate effectively. This occurs more frequently with seniors who have dementia.
Like younger victims of bullying, bullied seniors are significantly affected by this problematic behavior, with bullying negatively impacting mental and physical wellbeing. Common reactions to senior bullying include depression, suicidal ideation, self-isolation, and decreased ability to carry out daily activities. The impact of bullying also extends to bystanders. Individuals who witness bullying experience guilt for not intervening, which often leads to reduced self-esteem. And when bullying is allowed to continue, this fosters an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, which can lead to even more bullying and hostility.
How Can Caregivers Intervene?
First, it’s important that caregivers understand why bullying occurs. More often than not, these senior bullies began bullying when they grew younger, and just haven’t outgrown their problematic behaviors. They usually lack empathy and have very few healthy social relationships. Bullies can also torment others because they feel the need for control, which becomes more pronounced in old age, especially in communal living situations.
To prevent senior bullying incidents from occurring, caregivers can consult residents and staff to develop rules for everyone’s behavior. Caregivers can create a secure environment by being consistent and take bullying complaints seriously, firmly telling bullies that their behavior is not acceptable. It’s also a good idea to hold regular group discussions where residents can share their problems about the community and come up with solutions to address these.
Schedule meetings with a social worker or therapist so that bullies can vent their frustrations and learn how to manage their feelings in a healthy way. Bullies who pick on others to feel in control could feel better when given some responsibilities, such as forming a committee or heading some activities. Caregivers can also help bullies make better social relationships by enabling them to express their wants and needs respectfully and positively.
Because many bullies struggle with a lack of empathy, caregivers can come up with programs to encourage kind and caring behavior. For example, you could give prizes to residents who treat people with exceptional kindness and caring. This will encourage residents to treat others with kindness and respect, paving the way to a peaceful and happy community.
Jess Walter is a freelance health and nutrition writer who spent over a decade working in the healthcare industry. You can contact Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org