We tend to paint all elderly people as kind, gentle souls but age does not necessarily guarantee a pleasant disposition. And just like in school, older adults can fall back into the role of bully, especially when living in close quarters like retirement or nursing homes.
Recently a number of stories have cropped up in the media about behavior problems in senior living communities where residents frequently act out against one another. And while dementia may be cause for some seniors to lash out at others, bullying behavior can also be an attempt by older adults to gain a sense of control after losing their independence. Others return to childhood patterns like bullying or gossiping in reaction to fear of an uncertain future, the loss of loved-ones or retaliation for being moved out of their familiar home and community.
According to a recent Global News Report, a study from the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine found that nearly a third of seniors surveyed said that they had experienced bullying and 39 per cent reported witnessing other older adults being bullied by their peers. In some cases seniors become socially isolated and feel frightened to leave their apartment or room for fear of bullying. Less able to fight back or move quickly, seniors can become withdrawn and more likely to lose sleep and have increased levels of stress and worry.
Whether bullying occurs because older adults in retirement communities are forced into living with others from a diverse range of backgrounds or because of fear and frustration, historically few resources have been available to help seniors fight bullying behavior. But as the senior population swells with aging baby boomers over the next 20 years, the problem will likely continue to grow. Nursing and retirement homes will need to train staff and offer residents tools to combat bullying in much the same way we strive to in schools.
To learn more about the Saskatchewan study, visit the College of Medicine online by following this link.