Bullying – it’s a very loaded word. As adults we’ve been through the school experiences where, if we didn’t experience it and weren’t perpetrators, we’d probably know people who were in one or the other camp.
School is just a community where identity takes hold and is shaped and as such, with children growing and developing there personalities and thrown together merely on the basis of age and location or wealth(in the case of private schools) there is no reason to believe that everyone will get on and live happily together.
Fortunately, there are some wonderful resources and help available for children who might experience bullying. Often parents will be very supportive.
Let’s turn that perception on its head though because this week, I have been discussing and processing the implications of bullying in a residential care home for adults with dementia.
This is not bullying by managers of staff or bullying of residents by staff.
This is bullying of residents by other residents.
In some ways, I’m surprised that there isn’t more debate and discussion about this. After all, in some cases, people who require residential care and who have dementia may not have many decisions about where they live. Adults are proverbially thrown together merely on the basis of age (and diagnosis), location and wealth (in the case private homes).
Why is it more surprising that the tribal nature of the human condition becomes any less apparent than it would with children?
We are still working with and alongside people who are vulnerable but are there any resources available for adults who are bullied in these circumstances or the families of adults who are bullied in these circumstances.
As mentioned above, I am involved in various safeguarding processes for an adult in a residential home who is being unfairly targeted by another resident.
Without too many details, the decisions that are taking place around the people involved relate almost entirely to series of best interest meetings and discussions.
Should we move the target who is not even necessarily aware of what is going on around them but who is settled and has already moved a couple of times? Or should we move the perpetrator who is adamant that they do not want to leave?
At what stage does this ribbing and teasing or just two people who don’t get on, become an imbalance in power that is usually present in ‘bullying’.
While we have come to a solid and I think, acceptable decision that is protective for both parties (and as the care coordinator for the ‘target’, she has been my primary responsibility), this case has led me to reflect on and consider other cases that I’ve been involved with where abuse has taken place between older adults in residential care settings and day centres.
I’m very surprised there isn’t more research and information about it and some of the staff in these settings seem to be constantly amazed that all people regardless of background, culture and history don’t just ‘all get on’ in the lounge to sing ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’.
Are we denying the humanity of older people by trying to pretend that they are somehow less human because they are not succumbing to some of that most human activity in ‘community environments’ of picking off the weakest or the most ‘different’.
I think by not actively and forcefully discussing issues of bullying and having plans around them, we are doing a disservice to all older adults for whom we, as a society, have a duty to care.
One day, newspapers, communities and the public will be as interested and as horrified by the stories of bullying in older people’s communities as they are in schools.
It shouldn’t really surprise us when you think about it. As I’ve said many times in person over the last few days, this is what happens in communities of humans – and there are various almost tribal elements at play as communities form into ‘stronger’ and ‘weaker’ elements. Why should this be different when we age or become unwell or a memories begin to fade? We don’t stop being human.
As a service and as a profession, we need to have plans that are as strong and protective for older adults experiencing bullying as we do for children as often there aren’t the forceful parents around to protect and defend. It is left to us, as professionals, to take that advocacy role.
There also has to be a broader understanding that things don’t always happen in the way we would like them to and more care homes and placements need solid guidance and frameworks for managing and working with communities where sometimes people don’t get on or choose to be and particularly where were a very different power balance elements at play due to differing physical and mental health needs and differences of dependencies – dislike can lead to bullying within the environment if it is not addressed.
Bullying is about power differentials. That doesn’t cease to exist when we leave the playground or the workplace. It is the unfortunate aspect of community building and the human condition and it can’t and mustn’t be swept under the carpet.
One day I want to see the same resources, organisations and policies around bullying within care homes and sheltered housing communities as exist around bullying in schools.