Imagine this scenario: you walk into a cafeteria filled with others who are giving you dirty looks, pointing and laughing at you, whispering things to their friends as you walk by, and not allowing you to sit with them. Am I talking about middle school? High school? Well, it certainly happens there, but that is not what I am referring to here. I am talking about nursing homes, senior citizen centers, retirement communities, and assisted living homes, and the behaviors are very similar to students bullying other students, except this involves grown adult men and women excluding others, spreading rumors, gossiping, and just being plain nasty. Unfortunately, common elder diseases, like dementia and Alzheimer’s, attribute to both the mean behavior and also to the vulnerability of the victims.
Recently there has been a lot of conversation surrounding this topic, especially when the bullying rises to a violent level, as we have seen recently in the news. Because of this, more and more families of residents are bringing complaints to the nursing homes where their loved ones are and demanding that the staff ensure the safety of their residents. Nursing homes have a code of conduct that residents must abide by, but similar to bullying in schools, it can be difficult to enforce and the behavior will likely happen regardless.
Massachusetts laws provide protection to elders and residents of nursing homes when the behavior amounts to abuse. Abuse is defined as “serious physical or emotional injury.” Reports can be made to the senior Protective Services who will then investigate the incident(s). Pursuant to MGL 19A, section 15, those required by law who have “reasonable cause to believe that an elderly person is suffering from…abuse, shall immediately make a verbal report of such information… to the department or its designated agency and shall within forty-eight hours make a written report to the department or its designated agency.” If the designated person does not make the report to the necessary agency, the person can face a fine of not more than one thousand dollars.
However, aside from the laws regulating this area, it is also important that nursing homes and other senior centers take an active role in preventing and putting an end to elder bullying. Not only should staff be trained on implementing the code of conduct and other bullying policies, but the behavior should be prohibited and the offenders should be reprimanded and even punished. These types of communities should make this a top priority to ensure everyone’s safety and prevent more tragic incidents inside the walls of nursing homes across the state.