Bully Proofing Senior Communities

For most adults, bullying is a distant unpleasant memory from our youth.  It often leaves scars that we feel all our lives and over recent years, a sizable effort has been made in the prevention of bullying in schools and online with our youth.  But bullying is a behaviour that occurs at all ages, including the golden years.

Bullying is characterized by “intentional repetitive aggressive behavior involving an imbalance of power or strength,” according to Gloria M Gutman, PhD OBC, an expert in the prevention of elder abuse.

Just as with any group of people living, studying or working together, senior communities can create an environment where bullying can occur and social cliques form.   Older bullies may have shown this behaviour their whole lives or in some cases a loss of independence and control may bring about bullying later in life.   Just like in high school, older adult bullies may make insulting jokes, spread rumours, be critical of physical or mental impairment, invade personal space and in some cases can become physically abusive.

Bullying can result in anxiety, isolation, frustration, depression and reduced self-esteem.  Seniors who are bullied in their community may talk more of moving out and have changes in eating and sleeping or have a decreased ability to perform daily living tasks.

Research on elderly bullying is scarce however, a recent study by Robin Bonifas, at Arizona State University found that 10 to 20 per cent of residents in senior housing experienced some form of bullying.

Preventing Bullying

  • Check the facility’s code of conduct – make sure there is a written expression of appropriate behavior
  • Look for a resident “ambassador” to help new residents transition
  • If you see bullying – speak up – tell a staff member what’s going on
  • Staff should be trained to prevent residents from excluding others
  • Victims can be taught to stand up for themselves in a manner that is not confrontational
  • Empathy of the issues each party may be struggling with can help overcome aggression