An article in The Arizona Republic highlights the increasing problem of bullying in American retirement communities.  The article looks at the story of Doris Lor, a 76-year-old retired secretary, who experienced bullying upon joining an retirement community outside of Phoenix.  According to Doris: “There is a clique here that is meaner than mean,” adding that “[n]o matter where you go, even if you pay for the activity, the clique saves all the seats,” and that she has “never had a problem like this anywhere else.  I have never been bullied at any other time in my life.”

According to  Robin Bonifas, a gerontology expert and assistant professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work, who is researching bullying “10 to 20 percent of older people in care homes experience some type of abuse from fellow residents.”  The article also quotes Melanie Starns, an Assistant Arizona Department of Economic Security Director, stating that bullying is  “a pretty big deal. The mean girls were there in school and as we get older, they are still around.”  Starns explained the behavior by noting that “older people act like bullies for the same reasons that younger ones do: to respond to someone or something that makes them feel insecure. Dementia also may be one underlying cause of nasty behavior.”   She adds that “[w]hen people become more frail, they feel more vulnerable … [s]ome people adjust, while other people develop difficult and destructive behaviors.”

The article concludes be mentioning some of the steps that retirement communities and other service providers can take to prevent bullying.  It highlights the code of conduct in place at Phoenix’s city-run senior centers, which requires that “anyone who attends lunches and recreation programs at the city’s senior centers must sign a code of conduct that states that all center members will be treated with “consideration, respect and recognition of their dignity.” According to Bonifas:  “[t]here needs to be clear expectations about what kind of behavior is appropriate. The best way to deal with bullying is to have an all-around culture where bullying is unacceptable.”

Take some time to read the full article and share your thoughts with IAHSA. Have you observed similar behaviors in your community? Are you surprised by the article?  What steps can be taken to prevent bullying in your community?

Added on 16 Feb 11: Here is an new article on the subject from NBC’s Today Show.