Senior bullying and taking action to prevent it Print E-mail
Ask Jean
Thursday, Apr. 23, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Q After much debate and even some coercing, my mother who is in her late 70s moved to a senior apartment complex.

We were all so relieved. We thought that she would be happy, make new friends, have more opportunities for social connections, and in general be able to relax and enjoy things without the stress of home ownership and all of the upkeep.

I think we may have made a huge mistake.

Each time I visit she seems more withdrawn. When I ask her if she has met anyone or if she is attending any of the many activities, she replies, “Oh, there is a group of women who are in charge of those things and they don’t seem to want me to attend.”

This breaks my heart! What, if anything, can I do to help? (From a daughter in Madison)

A I am so sorry for your mother’s situation, and for you!

This is clearly very uncomfortable. Although it is very hurtful, it is not a unique situation.

Often, in places where older individuals live and share resources there are people who take control.

If we compare this to a much younger population — for example, high school aged individuals — we would call this type of behavior “bullying.”

Senior bullying

The truth is that senior bullying is being recognized as a growing issue.

According to AARP (formerly American Association of Retired Persons), between 10 and 20 percent of individuals residing in senior housing — of all kinds — are mistreated by their peers.

It can range from name calling to bossy behavior or even more extreme physical violence. Your concern is valid.

Taking action

As for what you can do, I would first approach the building manager. Is he/she aware that these behaviors are occurring? Are residents encouraged to create a community of acceptance?

Are there resident "ambassadors" or even a "resident council" who make sure all feel welcomed during the transition into their new home? Do staff members coach residents on how to handle snubs or other subtle aggression?

If the building manager is not able to assist, I would encourage you to call the local senior center and ask if there are any resources. Some organizations have speakers available to give presentations on this topic. The best way to prevent this behavior is to intervene.

It is important to validate your mother’s feelings. She is most likely not the only person feeling this way. No doubt others have been the target of unkind words or gossip.

Changing the culture of the community will take time and effort, but in the end will be well worth it.

Thank you for shining a light on this! Your mother is very lucky to have you on her side.


Jean Mueller has been a registered nurse for over 30 years. Her experience includes working in home care settings, skilled nursing care, and training individuals to become certified nursing assistants. For the past 13 years, she has worked in the Aging Services department of the Madison Diocese Catholic Charities.