Q: I recently read an article on elder bullying and was shocked that older adults are actually experiencing this problem. What advice would you have in dealing with this?
A: The average person when asked where most bullies could be found might logically reply...schools. Bullying activities within our local education system has received the most attention over the past several years. Media focus has made all of us aware of unfortunate adolescent suicides due to the individuals being bullied, civil/criminal court cases and the failure of some schools to respond appropriately.
There is no question that vulnerable young children need to be protected because they have not developed the skills to handle the abuse directed towards them. Yet people need to recognize bullies are not just found on the playground, they are sitting behind office desks, living in every community, attending senior centers and residing in elder residential facilities.
Many experts would agree if intervention doesn’t take place or is unsuccessful young bullies may very well grow up to be older bullies. Bulling behavior has always been in existence, this is not a suddenly new phenomenon. Our consciousness has increased because it now has a “name” we are all familiar with. Bullies are associated with aggressive behavior, their actions are intentional and hurtful. Typical behavior includes harassment, name-calling, intimidation, insulting remarks, starting rumors and whispering behind someone’s back. Bullies are attempting to gain power and eventually humiliate their victims.
Experts have estimated 10 to 20 percent of older individuals in residential facilities have experienced contact with bullies. Many Senior Centers have also struggled with this activity as well. Staff at all institutions serving older adults should be encouraged to receive training on how to deal with bullying when it comes to their attention. One approach is to adopt a “code of conduct policy” where all participants are expected to sign a contract stating they will treat everyone with respect. It is also important to determine what issues the bullies are dealing with and connect them with resources to adddress the underlying problems.
Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. If you would like additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890.