A trend on the rise among individuals 65 and older is one seldom associated with this population. Across America, one in five seniors living in community settings report being bullied by some of their fellow residents.

“Staff and residents at Siena Village and Summer Hill read about this growing trend, so we decided to be proactive and hold seminars on how to recognize, address, and prevent it,” says Samantha Bruining, Siena Village Service and Activity Coordinator. Siena Village and Summer Hill, both in Wayne, are Christian Health Care Center (CHCC) affordable and fair-market independent-senior apartment complexes.

Bullying among seniors is similar to that experienced by children, adolescents, and teens. The most prevalent type of senior bullying is verbal through insults, criticism, ridicule, and/or name-calling. Bullying can also be physical (striking, tripping, threats of violence). It can be in the form of social ostracism by spreading rumors, ignoring, forming cliques, or refusing access to common rooms or participation in activities. It can be sexual harassment or invasion of personal space and/or privacy.

Elder bullies typically lack empathy, have few friends, are controlling, have difficulty accepting individual differences, have low self-esteem, and feel empowered by causing conflict or making others feel threatened, fearful, and hurt.

“It’s important to note that in senior communities, bullying may be complicated by or stress due to changing circumstances, chronic illness or pain, or dementia and other mental disorders,” Ms. Bruining says. “Not all aggressive behavior is bullying. Dementia, for instance, can cause aggression because individuals may not be able to express needs and may act out physically. Or their impulse controls may decrease, resulting in reduced mental filters. They may say things that can be taken as bullying.”

Some seniors respond to bullying by fighting back, while others may withdraw out of fear and as a way to avoid confrontation. Victims of bullying may exhibit emotional changes (fearfulness, anxiety, anger, frustration, nervousness) and/or behavioral changes (acting out, complaining, loss of function). They may withdraw and be hesitant to join activities or enter common rooms when others are present. And seniors who witness bullying may fear being bullied themselves if they report the incident.

At Siena Village and Summer Hill, proactive measures are in place to help prevent bullying. These include creating a safe and secure environment through policies and procedures for community living; holding regular meetings with residents to discuss any issues or concerns; and helping residents expand their social networks through new resident socials, birthday parties, and similar activities.

“One of the most important measures to prevent bullying is treating individuals with dignity and respect,” says Laura Koblitz, Resident Director of Siena Village and Summer Hill. “Staff and residents alike strive to model this behavior each and every day.”

The senior bullying presentations at Siena Village and Summer Hill are part of the Service Coordination Program. This extensive, complimentary, and voluntary program provides information, services, lecture, resources, and referrals in relation to health, nutrition, financial and legal assistance, Passaic County services such as the Senior ID Program, transportation and emotional guidance. The program fosters health, healing, and wellness by promoting independence and autonomy.

 

For more information about Siena Village and Summer Hill, contact Karen Hockstein at (201) 848-4463 or khockstein@chccnj.org.