Nursing Homes and Assisted Living: Home to the High School Bully?

When the topic of bullying comes up, we most often think of the younger crowd; high school cliques and cyber-bullying are familiar concerns. However, little attention is paid to the same potential problem in senior living communities. These communal living settings, such as assisted living and nursing homes, can also breed bullying and clique-ish behavior. The New York Times addressed this issue in a May 31st article, with a personal story of a resident who experienced a fair-weather friend in a New Jersey assisted living facility.

Rhea Basroon tells the Times that she and her sisters were concerned about their mother’s social isolation and weren’t sure how readily she would adapt upon moving into assisted living. Naturally, they were delighted when their mother made an immediate friend in Irene. But the two were so close that their mother failed to develop other friendships within the community, and when Irene suddenly preferred the company of another resident, their mother was again left lonely and isolated. Assisted living cliques are common

It’s much more common than most of us realize. In fact, the Huffington Post touched on this sensitive scenario back in December, describing a group of about a dozen residents in an active retirement community who have taken control over the community center, a recreational facility intended as a gathering place for card games, luncheons and social events. Doris Lor reports having been verbally scolded by another resident on attempt to enter the center. “This is a private club. You aren’t welcome here,” the man declared. But because Lor purchased her home within the community, it’s a complex process to move.

Reducing nursing home bullying isn’t easy

Marsha Frankel, clinical director of senior services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Boston, tells The New York Times that sometimes the mean girls in high school grow up to be the mean girls in the nursing facility. But that’s not always the case. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can reduce inhibition, sometimes causing people to verbalize things they would have normally kept to themselves. Bullying behaviors in nursing home facilities and assisted living communities include excluding others from activities, monopolizing public areas and general insulting comments. A sudden increase in bullying behavior, especially if it’s uncharacteristic for the resident, should be an indication to the facility’s staff that there may be an underlying medical cause.

Frankel, along with government legislature and state long-term care ombudsmen, have yet to develop an appropriate solution for the problem. Frankel has led workshops encouraging friendly interaction among residents, but has found them ineffective. There is little research on resident-to-resident bullying, partially because it’s difficult to quantify. Several long-term care ombudsmen tell ABC News that they’ve never even heard of bullying in assisted living; most of the complaints they receive are related to staff-to-resident issues. However, they do encourage residents in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and independent living facilities to file a complaint if they feel that they’re being bullied.

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