Older, But Not Wiser: Chicks & Cliques in Assisted Living Settings

What happens to mean girls when they grow up? Some of them end up as mean old ladies, says a post on the New York Times The New Old Age blog suggesting that occurrences of cliques and social manipulation don’t necessarily end after high school and could be problematic in senior living settings.

The article recounts the story of a woman living in an assisted living community whose best—and inseparable—friend was lured away by a newcomer to the community, leaving her lonely and “devastated.” Although the friendship eventually resumed after the “new girl” moved on to other residents, it’s indicative of a larger trend toward cliquishness and bullying. 

In senior residences, Ms. Basroon [the adult daughter of the woman mentioned above] concluded, “it’s like junior high, with that cliquishness, that excluding” of others.


This phenomenon, a sort of social bullying, apparently comes as no surprise to administrators of senior apartments, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and senior centers. “What happens to mean girls? Some of them go on to become mean old ladies,” said Marsha Frankel, clinical director of senior services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Boston, who has led workshops (innocuously called “Creating a Caring Community”) for staff and residents.

Some intended victims can shrug off this petty tyranny, but others suffer. They withdraw from activities and social situations, perhaps experience anxiety or depression, want to move out. “It can get pretty nasty, and these are vulnerable people,” Ms. Frankel said.

She hasn’t found her caring community workshops very effective at getting mean seniors to behave better, since nobody considers himself or herself a bully, but they do appear to embolden the staff to intervene.


But bolstering old people’s ability to stand up for themselves might also work. Dr. Bonifas [a former busing home social worker] has undertaken a pilot research program on bullying in two Phoenix senior apartment complexes and has noticed that, as with youth bullies, not everyone is equally likely to be a target.

“We have expectations that as we grow older we become more mature—the stereotype of the wise old person who knows how to conduct herself,” Dr. Bonifas said. “That’s not necessarily the case.”

Problem areas for bullying in senior living  communities include community spaces, such as TV lounges, that are supposed to be for everyone’s use but may be monopolized by one resident or a group of friends who dictate what shows are watched and who can sit where, says the article.

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In another grade school throwback, dining rooms also represent a potential conflict zone, with residents saving seats for friends or reserving spots so that others they don’t like can’t sit with them. 

Read more at the New York Times.

Written by Alyssa Gerace