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Bullying in Assisted Living

When we think of bullying we tend to think of images of children on the playground not being picked for team sports, or teenagers being hassled in the hallways at school. But bullying doesn’t just happen with adolescents. It can be a major issue for seniors, especially for those living in assisted living communities.

What is Bullying?

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying is a type of violence that threatens a person’s well-being. It can range from verbal abuse to physical violence, and result in physical injuries, social and emotional problems, and overall health. Bullying is intentionally repeated and causes the victim discomfort, harm, and distress. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of seniors in nursing homes or assisted living communities experience some type of bullying from fellow residents.

How to Recognize It

As a caregiver or family member, there are several ways you can identify bullying:

  • Cliques: This happens when specific groups are formed that disallow others to join in. It can been seen in the form of not letting others sit at the same table during meal times or participate in activities with the group.
  • Stealing: The stealing or destroying of another person’s personal property is a form of bullying as it can be used to assert power and intimidation. A person may also steal and lie to administration in order to put the victim in a negative light.
  • Criticism: Any type of criticism against a person’s race, sexual orientation, economic status, religion, or other characteristics is considered bullying.

Causes of Bullying

While an elderly person may have not shown bullying tendencies during their younger years, there are several factors that can trigger the need to bully others such as growing older and coping with lack of independence, changes in relationships, and feeling powerless due to mental or physical disabilities.

While the causes of bullying tend to vary, one example is the need for seniors to assert power and control over others: the strong picking on the weak. Some bullies may feel the need to bully those with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities simply because they are different or less able to interact properly with the rest of the community. For example, a person with dementia may be more likely to be victims of bullying due to symptoms such as forgetfulness or inability to fully understand social situations. Alternatively, those with dementia may bully others because they feel disoriented or confused, causing them to lash out or show aggression toward others.

What to Do About It

There are several steps you can take to shut down bullying. Here are a few:

  • Train Staff: Ensure that staff, administrators, and caregivers are trained to identify bullying. The sooner bullying is identified, the quicker it can be shut down. Bullying only gets worse if it is overlooked or ignored.
  • Address the Issue: Set clear expectations and rules within the senior living community that bullying will not be tolerated. Put an action plan in place so that residents know what will happen if they are identified as bullies. In addition, instate a reporting process for victims to safely report bullying.
  • Positive Environment: Providing a positive, upbeat environment is one of the best ways to encourage residents to interact with each other properly. By encouraging exercise and other activities, residents are more likely to maintain healthy relationships.

As caregivers, administrators, and family members, it is important to understand what bullying is, how to identify it, and what to do about it. Just as in adolescent bullying, it is not an issue that should go unnoticed or ignored. It takes energy and responsibility to ensure proper expectations and rules are set so that bullying is not tolerated. By doing so, it will create a positive environment that will allow residents to feel comfortable and safe in their living situation.

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