Senior bullying and exclusion

About 20% of seniors living in communal settings experience bullying in one form or another. Cliques and power hierarchies seem to be a human tendency. If your loved one is the focus of bullying, you might notice withdrawal from others or depressed mood. Or you might hear them say that a particular person is “mean” or notice they avoid certain rooms, routes, or activities.

What is bullying? It’s generally defined as unwanted aggressive behavior against a seemingly less powerful person. Those most at risk are individuals new to a facility, particularly if they are single and/or seem timid or shy. Also, those with dementia. Bullying comes in several forms.

  • Physical: Pushing or hitting
  • Verbal: Snide or critical comments; bossing someone around
  • Relational: Negative gossip or rumors; shunning
  • Property: Stealing or vandalizing

Why do people bully? It’s not always intentional. A person with dementia might lash out or say something rude because of confusion or fear. Other people bully due to feeling a loss of control in facility life. Bullying can be an unconscious way to regain a feeling of personal power.

What can you do? Talk to the administration. If you can, relay specifics, especially if you witnessed an event. Ideally, every facility has an antibullying policy and procedure and has trained staff to recognize bullying and intercede. Perhaps staff can encourage a buddy for your loved one, as bullies tend to pick on people who are alone. While moving your relative may be tempting, the truth is that bullying happens everywhere. It may not be better at a new facility. If you do choose to move, be sure there is an antibullying policy in place and that it’s enforced.

If it’s your relative doing the bullying, some counseling may be in order to address the root cause. They may, for instance, have a mild cognitive impairment.