Pam Rainey: Seniors need family support to avoid bullying

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When you think of bullying, you probably think of adolescents harassing other children. That’s what I thought, too — before I learned that bullying is not limited to children.

Researching the topic was not easy. There has been little research done about seniors who bully other seniors. It is not widely recognized. Much work must be done to generate conversations about this unthinkable discriminatory act.

Elder abuse and senior bullying are different. When I began doing research for an elder abuse column about 15 years ago, I found little material. Now, this subject is frequently talked about and laws have been written to protect seniors who are abused.

The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation and despair. The National Center on Elder Abuse is directed by the U.S. Administration on Aging. The center is a resource for policymakers, social services, health care practitioners, the justice system, researchers, advocates and families.

On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was declared, and Dear Abby shined a light on this disgusting practice.

It is time for us to turn our attention to senior bullying.

In an article titled “Senior Bullying” on www.retirementliving.com, Lauren Searson writes, “According to a researcher who studies issues related to aging, senior-to-senior bullying tends to take place in senior centers, nursing homes or assisted living facilities. These are places where seniors spend a lot of time together and need to share resources, whether it’s chairs, tables, TV stations or the staff’s attention.”

An illustration: When Martha moved into a senior assisted living facility, it was, at first, a relief to her family to think she was in a safe environment. They thought they no longer had to be concerned about whether or not she had nutritious meals prepared, or about the financial burden of home upkeep draining her pocketbook. Martha had always made friends easily. Her family expected the same at her new home.

Martha’s unwillingness to go to the dining room, join the women’s craft group or attend movie nights was dismissed as grief from the recent loss of her husband causing withdrawal. However, one smart daughter decided to dig for answers to her mother’s unusual behavior.

She visited her mother’s craft group. Bingo. Before she had a chance to introduce herself, she heard a senior at the craft table spreading a rumor about her mother. Putting two and two together, it was evident why her mother had isolated herself. But she didn’t give up on the facility and she didn’t give up on her mother.

Martha’s daughter headed straight for the social worker’s office. Thankfully, in this case, the social worker listened and worked toward a no-tolerance policy for bullying in Martha’s assisted living facility.

While this was not an immediate turnaround, the problem was addressed with the one who bullied. Gently, the social worker took steps with Martha and others to correct the problem.

When families are looking for a nursing home or an assisted living arrangement, of course safety and cleanliness are to be addressed with the staff. But families also need to address the subject of senior bullying. Ask the staff if there are policies and procedures in place about how older adults are to treat others.

Also, if you care for a loved one in their home, or have an elderly parent living alone, observe visitors who come and go. Are your loved ones being teased, being excluded from activities and then purposefully told about outings they missed? This is but one sign of senior bullying. Look for other signs. If you have seniors in your place of worship, look for signs of senior bullying. You might be surprised.

Let’s begin a conversation about it. Most of all, let’s not tolerate it.

While senior bullying is a difficult subject and can be related to dementia or other senior-related diseases, it can be addressed. More research can be done. We must eliminate the problem, and it shouldn’t take years and years to do so.

PAM RAINEY is a longtime Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. You can reach her with suggestions at rpmrny@cs.com or 940-293-3117.


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