We’ve all experienced bullying at some point in our lives. When I was 16, I experienced a mild case I was unequipped to deal with.
I was out with a group of friends. We roamed the aisles of a drug store looking for tchotchkes to buy with money from our minimum wage jobs. A “good” friend, along with the object of my affection, teased me with a purchase suggestion: a bag of the dog treats. They giggled and laughed as they encouraged me to buy Beggin’ Strips.
I felt flush with embarrassment. I was humiliated. They went on, and on, and on teasing me about the treats. I was confused and hurt. Why did they pick Beggin’ Strips? Because I was unattractive? Because my friend knew I had a crush on the boy? Because the advertising was popular at the time? Or was it something else entirely?
It was a silly exchange with no consequence on my life, but I still remember the embarrassment I felt. It was impossible for me to articulate my feelings. I couldn’t comprehend what they were saying about me, but I knew it wasn’t good. I didn’t know how to talk to my friend about it because I felt like she was pointing out a deficiency that everyone but me could see.
I’m sure you experienced something similar at some point in your childhood. And, like me, you’ve seen incidents of bullying become less frequent in your life.
As a caregiver I’ve had to start thinking about bullying again. I’d almost forgotten how to deal with the problem.
What does senior bullying look like?
A hierarchy emerges when people who are roughly the same age congregate. An 80-year-old with moderate dementia pays close attention to the cognitive abilities of others. She begins to compare herself to those in her peer group. The comparisons lead to gossip, which leads to bullying. And no one is immune. The School of Social Work at Arizona State University estimates 10-20% of seniors experience bullying to varying degrees (with many situations going unreported).
Most often, the bullying is happening at the hands of another resident. One resident may tease another about cognitive abilities or clothing. Someone might be teased about how they eat or the help they need. Sometimes it’s about things that are outside of their control, like the number of visitors they get.
As a caregiver you need to understand bullying situations are rarely resolved without intervention. You may feel helpless, but you need to work with the facility to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
What should caregivers do?
Facilities are aware this is a potential problem and will work with you to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Many facilities have a zero tolerance policy and encourage staff members to get involved when they see bullying. Residents must also sign a code of conduct that may result in eviction if the situation arises and cannot be resolved.
There are a few tell-tale signs of senior bullying you should look for if you fear your loved one is being bullied.
If bullying is taking place, make sure the facility knows it is happening. They will work with you to create a plan to resolve the issue. Once the plan is implemented, follow up with the facility to ensure everything has been resolved to your satisfaction. Remember that you and the facility are working together on this problem. They want to resolve the issue as quickly as you do. In our case, a change in the seating arrangement in the cafe made the bullying stop.
Those who live in a facility have accepted they need help. They’ve given up independence. They’ve reduced their belongings to what will fit in one room. They’re using the assets they spent their entire life building. Bullying shouldn’t be another price they have to pay.
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