Social Bullying in Long Term Care

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The phenomenon of social bullying apparently comes as no surprise to administrators of senior apartments, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and senior centers. “What happens to mean girls? Some of them go on to become mean old ladies,” said Marsha Frankel, clinical director of senior services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Boston, who has led workshops (innocuously called “Creating a Caring Community”) for staff and residents.

What sort of behavior are we talking about? Ms. Frankel and Robin Bonifas, an assistant professor of social work at Arizona State who has begun research on senior bullying, described various situations:

  • Attempts to turn public spaces into private fiefdoms. “There’s a TV lounge meant to be used by everyone, but one person tries to monopolize it — what show is on, whether the blinds are open or shut, who can sit where,” said Dr. Bonifas.
  • Exclusion. “Dining room issues are ubiquitous,” said Ms. Frankel. When there’s no assigned seating, a resident may loudly announce that she’s saving a seat, even if no one else is expected, to avoid someone she dislikes. In an exercise class, added Ms. Frankel, who has gathered examples from administrators at several Massachusetts facilities, “one resident told another, in a condescending way, that she was doing it all wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to take the class.”
  • General nastiness. “People loudly and publicly say insulting things. ‘You’re stupid.’ ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’” Ms. Frankel said. In a Newton, Mass., facility she observed, a resident actually discouraged her daughter from visiting, because the daughter was obese and her mother didn’t want her subjected to disparaging gossip. Racial and ethnic differences can also set off malicious comments.
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