As our population ages, more and more kupuna are receiving care in assisted living facilities, senior centers, and nursing homes.
One of the products of this trend is an increase of bullying among seniors.
An estimated 20 percent of kupuna living in senior-living communities report being mistreated by a fellow senior. From being excluded from activities to physical abuse, bullying is a growing problem.
“We’re talking about adult people who were in charge with their homes in charge with their families and businesses and very independent folks all of a sudden finding themselves in a home with other people maybe it’s a nursing facility or a foster care situation but they’re in sort of an alien or foreign territory,” says psychologist Dr. Allana Coffee. “It’s very anxiety provoking for them and so of course they’re acting out the way that anxious people act out which is to consolidate energy around them and put as much familiarity around themselves as possible.”
Senior bullying is similar to bullying experienced by children. Bullies may act independently or as a group targeting the weak and vulnerable.
“If a person does not speak up than they could be sort of targeted or preyed because a more dominant, aggressive person know that they’re not going to tell,” says Coffee.
Senior bullying can be verbal or physical. It can also surface in social cliques, sexual harassment or invading one’s space and privacy.
“One of the warning signs is if your parents or grandparents stop going to social environments that they stop going to the cafeteria or they stop riding on the bus then you wonder what’s happening to make them avoid this kind of social situations,” says Coffee.
Some victims fight back but most withdraw out of fear or to avoid confrontations. Kupuna who witness bullying may also be afraid of getting involved.
“Same thing like the bystander issue with kids the adults have bystander issues as well and being a bystander traumatize an observer who is watching a targeted person,” says Coffee. “It’s hard for a person being a bystander they don’t know what to do, they’re uncomfortable.”
Some facilities don’t allow seniors to “save chairs,” others move furniture in common areas to disrupt any sense of “ownership.”
“The rejection of seats we recommend that the senior not be allowed to save a seat for a person and that’s really hard for even that person who says oh I want my friend George to sit here today,” says Coffee. “It would be better if they came into the room together with George so that they’re not creating a situation where we’re saving seats all around and then some poor person with their tray has to kind of work themselves over to another table.
Coffee urges seniors to speak up.
“Some of the care homes and retirement communities, people do file incidents reports and I recommend that an incident report be filed if you suspect bullying or harassment is occurring,” says Coffee. “
Bullying is inappropriate and unacceptable, no matter what your age.