It is a common notion that as people grow older they become wiser. For the most part, we do mellow with age. With each year, most of us reflect more, are more mature when reacting, and take fewer comments personally. A person that may have been rash or hot-headed in the past may seem to have gone soft. It’s one of the benefits of advancing years. However, there is a subset that doesn’t mellow with age. This group is defined as “old bullies”.
These people come into the hospital for treatment, go to family reunions and often become mean if they don’t get their own way. Some of us have one in the family. It may sound like this, “You know Uncle Joe; he’s just like that. Leave him alone and pay no mind.” Or maybe it’s Aunt Betty, who makes all of the nieces run away crying because she told one of them they were getting too fat. Then there is Aunt Betty’s friend, Delores, who manipulates others by excluding them. These people don’t rehabilitate with age; in fact, many times they get worse. They take this bully behavior into whatever institution they end up in. There was an interesting article last week in the New York Times about how these “old bullies” are affecting the assisted living home milieus. Once a place to gather, socialize and be cared for in one’s golden years these places may begin looking like teenage school yards.
“Old bullies” are more difficult to deal with than young ones. You cannot simply tell them to stop their bully behavior because, once you have a history of behaving in a manner you have practiced for sixty or more years, it is less likely you will change. Giving incentives like a gold star or a coupon for pizza are less effective the older you get. They don’t care about a gold star and cannot usually digest pizza. Therefore, many times the children and grandchildren of these old bullies are the ones who suffer. If they are in an assisted living home, staff calls may be frequent. Your big bully may begin to feel isolated even though they are surrounded by other people their age. Many times you may find that the old bully raised a young bully, and you are married to them. This complicates the situation as the young bully may defend the old bully parent, or try to bully the old bully parent.
There are things you can do that will help calm the situation in dealing with your “old bully”:
1. Make sure you take your old bully to your family doctor for a physical. Depression is common after the age of sixty-five. Brain chemistry changes and depression may be the result. Your bully may have been depressed for years and a simple medication can add quality to their life and everyone whose life they touch easier.
2. Make sure your old bully gets plenty of Vitamin D. This can be achieved by getting them out in the sun at least 20 minutes a day or taking a supplement. Your doctor can test to see if Vitamin D levels are within the desired range by a simple blood test. The absorption of Vitamin D in older people, as well as obese people, is compromised so talking to your doctor is wise.
3. Bully behavior is modeled, and it is highly likely that your old bully grew up with other bullies. Therefore, they may be insensitive to how their behavior affects others. It is always a good idea to talk to them in private about how they spoke to someone, and the affects that may have had on the person.
4. It is a good idea to talk to whoever is caring for your old bully prior to them meeting each other. You may be able to provide the knowledge necessary for the staff to develop a plan so they can effectively deal with your old bully. Many times children of the old bully try to protect them by making excuses. It is better if you are just honest and transparent. Bullies are enabled by people closest to them that make excuses for their bad behavior.
5. There is literature supporting the fact that bully behavior is tied in with lack of sleep in children. Many older people don’t sleep well. A sleep study and talking to your doctor about your old bully’s behavior may solve many of their behavior problems.
Old bullies can ruin holidays, reunions and relationships for generations to come. Their behavior is no more acceptable at 80 than it was at 6. Stopping the behavior at six will prevent them from a lifetime of misunderstanding, loneliness, and the trail of hurt feelings they leave behind. –Mary Jo Rapini
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