Lisa Conway – Hometown News

Q: My grandmother is being bullied in assisted living! What can I do?

A: Bullying is surprisingly common among seniors. Psychology Today defines bullying as, “a distinctive pattern of deliberately harming and humiliating others.” When we think about bullying, school-aged kids and lunch money extortion come to mind. But bullying happens in many environments, social circles and age groups.

Examples of bullying behavior in older adults (in and out of senior living communities) may include criticizing, ridiculing or making jokes about another person, lying or gossiping about a peer, invading a person’s space, or offensive gestures and facial expressions. At the extreme end, bullies can dole out verbal or physical abuse, like yelling, pushing or kicking, stealing or destroying another’s property.

Older adults often grapple with a loss of independence, chronic health conditions and a variety of life changes, which can leave them feeling vulnerable. Senior communities that don’t actively promote good conduct among residents can create a thriving environment for a bully.

When explaining why bullying occurs in seniors, Pennsylvania’s former Secretary of Aging, Dr. Linda Rhodes notes, “…elder bullies might have exhibited this behavior during their lifetime. Aging factors such as loss of relationships, valued roles and feeling powerless…can exacerbate the need to exert control and ignite a late-life round of bullying behavior.”

So what can your grandmother and others do to cope with the bullies in their lives? Dr. Rhodes suggests a number of strategies:

  • Ignore the behavior, which may remove the bully’s perceived power
  • Share your feelings with the bully, without being aggressive or hostile
  • Maintain eye contact and avoid provocation
  • Try to understand the circumstances contributing to the bully’s behavior
  • Set boundaries and report behavior to a trusted individual able to intervene

Lack of sleep, chronic pain and depression can make even the loveliest seniors cranky. Before labeling the bully, consider they just may be having a bad day. But if the behavior persists, take the necessary action.

One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging at OneSeniorPlace.comLisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.