October is a time for raking leaves and Halloween costumes. It’s also National Bullying Prevention Month.
Bullying is defined by StopBullying.gov as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Types of bullying include:
- Verbal (teasing, name-calling, taunting, threats)
- Social (spreading rumors, shaming, leaving someone out of a game or activity)
- Physical (hitting, kicking, pinching, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking things)
As elder care attorneys, at Geyer Law we’re concerned about bullying victims who have long ago left the school playground and who are now “aging in place” at home or in senior living facililties. As we specialize in helping elders and their families with special needs planning, guardianships, and veterans aid benefits, we are all too often made aware of three different forms of senior “bullying”:
1. Elder abuse by caretakers and family members
The Administration on Aging defines elder abuse as “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult”.
2. Bullying by peers in senior living facilities
People may develop destructive bullying behaviors as an adjustment mechanism during times of transition, Cyndy Marsh writes in the Caregiver Training Blog, and bullying among seniors can take some of the same forms as childhood bullying:
- gossiping or whispering when someone enters a room
- belittling jokes
- spreading rumors
- bossy behavior
- enforcing artificial seating arrangements
- making fun of physical or mental disabilities
- offensive gestures of facial expressions
- invading one’s personal space
- racial slurs
- physical abuse
If the behavior continues, it is important for adult children to reach out to the administrator or nursing staff, requesting that an assessment be conducted to determine if the bully has a medical condition (dementia and certain prescription medications) that are triggering the bullying behavior. Insist that a protocol be put in place to address the situation.
On the other hand, as Lifecare Innovations points out, when residents complain to family members about the bullying behaviors of other residents, family members will sometimes attempt to correct the behavior themselves by approaching the offending resident. These scenarios can escalate and cause a bad situation to grow far worse.
Existing studies suggest about one in five seniors encounters bullying, Social work professor Robin Bonifas at Arizona State University sees bullying as an outgrowth of:
a. frustrations characteristic in communal settings
b. issues unique to getting older
3. Adult children overstepping their boundaries.
In dealing with aging parents, It’s imperative that adult children not attempt to force their will on their parents, and that they ”pick their battles” by focusing on only the important things. In “Are You Bullying Your Aging Parents?”, Linda Bernstein names five key issues adult children and parents fight about include:
- home safety
- doctors, treatments, and medication
- end-of-life planning
Aging individuals, their children, and their caregivers can all be overwhelmed by the physical toll of aging and the burden of finding resources to address long-term care needs. At our elder law firm, we try to go beyond the traditional legal issues and by advice, referral, and direct assistance do our best to help clients address the problems brought on by aging.
Let’s all do our best to observe bullying prevention month – all year round!
– by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team