, Gloucester, MA

June 21, 2013

Stopping bullying of seniors

Senior Lookout
Anne Springer

---- — Bullying just doesn’t take place in schoolyard between children.

Bullies come in adult size, too. Some parents bully their children. Domestic violence between adults can start as verbal bullying, in an effort to make someone feel “less than,” or to isolate them from family.

Workplace bullies are often the people who seem to spend every waking moment trying to think up ways to throw their co-workers under the proverbial bus. The problem is being taken seriously to the extent that 25 states have proposed the Healthy Workplace Bill, including Massachusetts. No laws have yet been enacted. The Massachusetts initiative is House Bill 1766:

Most people don’t think about bullying in the context of senior citizens. Yet there are instances where the definition of bullying includes behavior that is directed at seniors by others, or that is perpetrated on seniors by seniors.

According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.

The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to ‘cause’ the bullying.”

Among seniors, bullying can often take the form of unkind gossip. Sometimes, in elder housing, or an assisted living environment, a person can be made uncomfortable enough by social bullying, or exclusion, that he or she avoids common areas, or remains in his or her apartment and doesn’t socialize with other tenants, or participate in events.

Robin Bonifas, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Social Work at Arizona State University, conducted a small pilot study, which found that between 10 percent and 20 percent of seniors in care homes are mistreated by their peers.

Most advocates suggest that people not allow bullying to go unchallenged. However, it’s not always easy to confront a bully, either to halt being bullied, or to protect someone else. Older people often feel vulnerable, either because they cannot change their living situation, or because they no longer drive and thus feel unable to get away from the situation at will.

However, there are a couple of constructive things people can do to stop from being bullied, or to stop someone else from being bullied. Area Agencies on Aging, or AAAs, can investigate cases of elder abuse — reports are confidential. SeniorCare is the AAA for Gloucester and Cape Ann. Reach the agency at 978-281-1750. AAA’s also house the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, which protects the rights of people living in nursing homes.

Advocates say that the most important thing is to tell someone you trust — an adult child, an outreach worker at the senior center, the resident services coordinator at the apartment complex, a social worker, or a member of the clergy. When people start talking about this issue, very often there are good outcomes.

Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.