Mean Girls Prowl Senior Communities

Woman says group of seniors have made her retirement miserable.

BySusanna Kim
December 28, 2010, 9:37 PM

Dec. 29, 2010— -- Bullying may be a concern for teenagers in schools and through Facebook, but young people online are not the only targets of verbal abuse and social ostracism. Residential facilities for the elderly are not immune to abuse either.

Doris Lor, a retired secretary living in a retirement community in Chandler, Ariz., said she has been the victim of intimidation from other residents since she bought her home in 2003.

Lor, 76, lives in Solera Chandler Active Adult Retirement Community, which has more than 1,100 residents 55 years and older. She said a group of about a dozen elderly residents have not allowed her to use the community "clubhouse," where residents gather for luncheons and to play card games like canasta.

"They have a clique that's meaner than mean. They don't allow you to take part in anything," Lor said. "I know another resident who still goes to play, and she just keeps her mouth shut, plays the game and leaves."

Lor said she has complained to Solera's staff, even recording a confrontation with a resident who refused to allow her to sit at a card table, but the intimidation continued. Lor said the situation became so "humiliating" that she no longer visits the communal spaces.

"I'm sure there are some nice people here, but they have 13 or 14 people who are a disaster," said Lor, who either does not leave her home or visits other facilities, including Sun Lakes Active Adult Club Community about 20 minutes away.

A spokesperson from Solera said, "We don't condone bullying and don't have a comment on that specific case at this time."

Lor said she has talked to lawyers and wrote about 35 letters to legislators and community officials, but to no avail. She acknowledged the difficulty in forcing more courteous behavior, but she said she is entitled to the services that were advertised when she bought her home.

"When you first buy a home, it has a brochure and tells you what you can do here, but when you're here you can't do anything," said Lor, who added that she regrets that she is not renting her home because of the difficulty in selling it and moving at her age and in a less-than-robust economy.

Lor said she hoped her story, which was originally reported by the Arizona Republic, would draw more attention to her cause.

She said she hopes a legislator will take the cause of elderly residents in similar situations, whether they live in nursing homes or other adult care facilities.

While state and social service agencies can hear a startling number of complaints about physical abuse, there is little data about how prevalent resident bullying is. And they are somewhat befuddled about how to respond to grievances about ostracism from other residents.

Mark Miller, New York state long-term care ombudsman, said most of the abuses he has seen are from residential staff.

In the United States there were 2,793 complaints of resident-to-resident physical and sexual abuse in fiscal year 2008, the latest data collected from the Administration on Aging of the Department of Health and Services.

Arizona had the third highest number of resident-to-resident reports of physical and sexual abuse, with 241 cases in 2008. California had the highest at 1,334 reports followed by Utah at 295 reports.

He said he has not heard of incidences of targeted social ostracism and it would be difficult to collect data about verbal abuse from residents. Part of the challenge is that the Administration of Aging simply collects reports from every state, which may categorize each complaint differently.

Carmelita Karhoff, long-term care ombudsman of the Triangle J Area Agency on Aging in North Carolina, said she also had not heard of reports of bullying, though she encourages residents and families to inform their local or state ombudsman if they do have issues.

And in some states, cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation should go to the Department of Social Services' adult protective services.

Ken Budd, executive editor of AARP, The Magazine, said he had not heard of "bullying" in retirement communities, but is certain it exists.

"People usually become bullies to hide their own inadequacies and fears, whether they're 18 or 80," Budd said. "So bullies can surface in any group setting, not just retirement communities."

Budd advises that elderly residents may act irrationally because of issues including dementia.

"People who are losing their independence or dealing with health issues may lash out at neighbors," he said.

Budd offered another piece of advise for dealing with bullies: "If you can't defuse a toxic personality, the best strategy is often to graciously distance yourself from that person."

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