Posted by Marsha Frankel

Sometimes we choose what we get interested in and other times an issue seems to choose us. Right now the topic that has chosen me is social bullying among older adults. (Read my previous blog post on this topic.)

Recently I was interviewed by Paula Span of the NY Times New Old Age blog and shared what I have learned working with older adults and staff in a variety of senior housing situations. The more than 96 comments from readers on her May 31 blog post have heightened my conviction that bullying is a major problem, resulting in unnecessary suffering for older adults already facing the demands of aging. The comments ranged from "what can you expect" to stories of hurt and exclusion to demands that the staff of the facilities bear some responsibility for how their residents treat each other.

A couple of weeks ago there was a news report of a middle school bullying incident in Bridgewater, MA, captured by an uninvolved student on his cell phone's video camera. In discussing this with a psychologist friend, she proposed that middle-schoolers are struggling to create their identities, i.e. "who am I /who am I not," which may serve as a platform for bullying by drawing lines and creating boundaries. For older adults, a move to an assisted living or senior housing is often a time of redefining their identity, caused by a move from a long-standing home or community, widowhood, retirement, or other changes. This is an interesting framework for helping us develop multilevel strategies for reducing bullying at any age.

I am reading a novel, Breaking Out of Bedlam, recommended in one of the comments on the NY Times blog. It vividly describes an older woman's unfortunate experiences (including bullying and being bullied) in an assisted living. From what I have read so far, much of what she recounts is fortunately not typical of many of the wonderful facilities we have in Greater Boston, but the social bullying she describes in detail is all too common.

The JF&CS commitment to assisting older adults remain healthy and engaged in their communities is why our senior services staff is frequently sought out by senior living communities and their professional associations to offer trainings and consultations. We will continue to collaborate with other professionals in developing strategies to reduce social bullying and promote caring communities.

Marsha Frankel, LICSW, is the Clinical Director of JF&CS Senior Services. She has many years of direct and consultative experience working with older adults in a variety of settings.