Thanks in large part to a massive campaign waged by educators, private advocacy groups, and parents, most of us think of school-age children when we hear cries to “stop bullying.” We envision children being excluded on the playground or gossiped about online or in the lunchroom. According to a recent news article, however, the elderly can be victims of bullying, too.
Senior Center Altercations
The recent article in The Oklahoman is a cause for reflection. It forces us to confront the bullying that seniors, like their younger counterparts, face regularly. At a local senior housing project, two residents got into an argument over who could sit at a certain dining-hall table. The altercation led to shoving and hitting, followed by a cup of coffee being thrown at one of the women, reported the newspaper. The fight had to be broken up by some of the staff.
At an Oklahoma City assisted living center, a new senior resident was flatly told by other residents that she couldn’t sit at several lunch tables because they were “saved.” The rejected woman broke down in tears afterward and stayed in her room for the meal.
“Unfortunately, age does not discriminate when it comes to these ‘bullying’ incidents,” said Mary Brinkley, executive director of LeadingAge Oklahoma, which provides services to some 100 nursing homes and other long-term facilities. “Statistics show bullying involves 10 percent to 20 percent of all seniors” living in long-term care facilities, Brinkley noted.
Verbal abuse, snubbing, pettiness, cruelty, gossiping, rumors and exclusion – behaviors that most of us associate with middle school children – are examples of the type of bullying faced by seniors, according to one local eldercare official.
“Neurological disease in the elderly also is one of the causes and contributing factors. For others, it is triggered by depression or loneliness, which might come from a change in their ‘home’ setting,” Brinkley said. “Keep in mind, bullying is something that some have done throughout their life; so it doesn’t necessarily become more prevalent with increased age,” the LeadingAge Oklahoma official added.
How Can We Stop Bullying of the Elderly?
Knowing that our older loved ones are being subjected to bullying is an eye-opener. Now that we know, however, the obvious question becomes, how do we stop it? Better yet, how can senior centers and long-term care facilities prevent elder bullying in the first place? “All providers must continue to monitor and protect against any instances that could affect the quality of life for other seniors,” Brinkley said. Blair Schoeb, executive director of the Areawide Aging Agency in central Oklahoma, said to address the problem, long-term care facilities need plenty of trained staff who can help residents spread “hospitality and benevolence.”
Schoeb emphasized that bullying has both perpetrators and victims. “We know that some people, as they age, withdraw from social interaction due to their physical condition. These people probably appear to be an easy target for someone who has a history of being a bully,” Schoeb said. “Senior bullying includes both men and women … because I don’t think gender is any more of an issue than bullying in children, adolescents, adults or elders,” he said.
One of the biggest hurdles to addressing elder bullying is the same one found when trying to stop elder abuse – victims rarely come forward and report the problem. Sadly, elder victims are often ashamed to be a victim of anything, and therefore fail to report the problem. In addition, bullying can occur within the family, making victims fear reprisals for speaking up. If you have an elder loved one who you believe might be the victim of bullying, try talking to him or her. Speak to caregivers and ask them to watch for signs of bullying. Picking on someone weaker or more vulnerable than you is no more acceptable as a senior than it was as a child.
Contact Oklahoma City Elder Law Attorneys
For additional information on how to protect the elderly, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have questions or concerns regarding elder law matters, contact the experienced elder law attorneys at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 in Oklahoma City.
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