The word bully often calls to mind images of a school playground, but it turns out seniors, especially those living in aged care facilities cop bullying, too.
Nursing homes and senior centres across the US have now introduced programs, training and policies to prevent bullying, the New York Post reported.
“There’s the clique system just like everywhere else,” said Betsy Gran, who until recently was assistant director at San Francisco’s 30th Street Senior Centre. “It’s like Mean Girls, but everyone is 80,” she added, referring to the teen movie about catty high school girls.
According to the US Department of Health and Services’ Administration on Aging, in 2008 alone there were 2,793 complaints of elderly resident-to-resident abuse in long-term care facilities.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health told Starts at 60 they “recognises the importance of protecting the rights of older Australians from abuse, whether it is physical, emotional or financial”.
“Commonwealth-funded aged care providers are required by law to ensure that quality care and services are provided to all residents in a safe, secure homelike environment that is free from harm and abuse.”
Pamela Countouris, who now runs a Pittsburgh-based consultancy that offers training on bullying, says most bullying in aged care facilities isn’t physical, but rather involves name-calling, rumours and exclusion. “I didn’t realise it was an underground society where people could be mean to each other,” Countouris said.
Bingo often saw lucky newcomers accused of cheating by veteran players, while, laundry rooms become “vicious places” where the victims had their clothes thrown on the floor, she said. In the worst cases, bullying goes far beyond bingo bickering.
Marsh Wetzel from Glen St. Andrew Living Community told the New York Post she was met with relentless bullying by residents who mostly focused on her being a lesbian.
According to her, one woman rammed her wheelchair into a table and knocked it over, warning “homosexuals will burn in hell”, while a male resident hit Wetzel’s scooter with his walker and “unleashed a barrage of homophobic slurs”. As a senior she said, it felt even more traumatic, as the bullies were even more vicious.
Darren Mathewson, CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia told Starts at 60: “Residential aged care is a home living arrangement where an older person is required to live in close quarters with other individuals and, as with any communal living environment, individual behaviours can be varied and diverse and sometimes present challenges.
This includes the individual’s right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to live without exploitation, abuse or neglect.”
Australia’s own aged care system has suffered its fair share of well-publicised abuse in recent years, much of it at the hands of staffers rather than residents.
The Department of Health announced a new independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will be established early next year to oversee the approval, accreditation, assessment, monitoring, complaints handling and compliance of Commonwealth subsidised aged care providers.
“This will be a a tough cop on the beat to ensure older Australians receive the best possible care, with an additional $32 million in funding to improve risk management of aged care facilities,” the Department of Health said.