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Erica K

Erica K
New Jersey, USA
September 26
I have a new blog: Grew up in Jackson Heights, New York, but now live in Jersey. Married and the proud owner (servant?) of 4 cats, including a little blind guy named Quincy. Jobs have included: English teacher in U.S. and abroad, cabaret performer and member of a NYC sketch comedy troupe; now a legal secretary and freelance writer. Other jobs: canvasser for NYPIRG/cannery worker in Naknek, Alaska (a fisherman told me it was "the ugliest part of Alaska")/dog kennel cleaner/member of the swine and poultry crew on a California farm. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett


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JANUARY 23, 2012 12:18PM

Biddy Bullies

Rate: 34 Flag
mean old ladies


When I visited Mom at the nursing home yesterday, I noticed that all her cookies were gone.  Last Sunday I brought her a bag of Pepperidge Farm soft-baked oatmeal raisin cookies and a bag of Ginger Man cookies.  It’s possible that she ate them all, but it is also worth noting that her roommate is a kleptomaniac.  The aides told me this when she first moved in last May.  I brought her another bag of oatmeal cookies yesterday, but before leaving, I walked over to the other lady’s side of the room and discovered a bag of the same oatmeal cookies on her bureau.  Very interesting.  At that point I decided to write Mom’s name on the new bag of cookies. 


Of course, this is fairly harmless behavior, and not much I can do about it.  After all, the nursing home is not a police state.  However, Mom’s stuffed animal cat Mouse went missing in August, which devastated her.  Luckily, I found duplicates of the stuffed animal at a Hallmark store and bought them all.  When I presented her with the new “Mouse” for her birthday, I lied and said that one of the aides found her.  She was in seventh heaven.


Although I haven’t witnessed it firsthand, there is far more devious behavior going on in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.  The problem is Biddy Bullies, or Mean Girls of Advanced Age. 


The New York Times featured an article by Paula Span on May 31, 2011 entitled “Mean Girls in Assisted Living.”  The article tells the story of Rhea Basroon’s mother, who moved into a New Jersey assisted living facility and bonded with a woman named Irene.  Ms. Basroon said they became inseparable until a third woman lured Irene away from her mother 


Ms. Basroon said, “She was so lonely.  There was no one else she bonded with.”


The third resident eventually tired of Irene and dumped her.  Then Irene rekindled her friendship with Ms. Basroon’s mother.


This “social bullying” does not surprise 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 conducted a workshop entitled “Creating a Caring Community” for staff and residents.


Ms. Frankel and Dr. Robin Bonifas, assistant professor of social work at Arizona State described various scenarios of social bullying:


1.         Attempts to turn public places into private fiefdoms.  ‘There’s a TV lounge meant to be used by everyone, but one person tries to monopolize it . . .’ ” said Dr. Bonifas.


2.         Exclusion.  “Dining room issues are ubiquitous,” said Ms. Frankel.  When there is no assigned seating, some residents may announce that they are saving a seat even if no one else is expected.  Ms. Frankel has gathered stories from several Massachusetts facilities and said that during exercise class at one facility, a resident “told another in a condescending way, that she was doing it all wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to take the class.”


3.         General meanness.  “People loudly and publicly say insulting things.  ‘You’re stupid.’  ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ” Ms. Frankel said.  One resident discouraged her obese daughter from visiting because she knew she would become the source of gossip and ridicule for other residents.  “Racial and ethnic differences can also set off malicious comments.”


Ms. Frankel said that dementia may lead to relaxing of inhibitions (I will vouch for this with my own mother), but that is only part of the picture since not all residents are demented.


Social manipulation is more about acquiring power and feeling in control, just as in adolescence.  Ms. Frankel has found that her workshops are not very effective at getting mean seniors to behave in a kinder, gentler fashion, but sometimes the staff will intervene. 


Dr. Bonifas has undertaken a pilot research program on bullying in two Phoenix senior apartment complexes and noted that, as with young bullies, not everyone is going to be a  target.  She is thinking of how to teach someone to say, “You’re not going to treat me like that.  Every chair here is available to anyone, and I’ll sit where I want.”  This helps the “target” take back his/her power from the bully.


So it seems the adage “older and wiser” doesn’t always prove true.  Sometimes it’s just older and meaner.


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Oh no!
I hadn't thought, but of course those old mean girls just keep on being mean...
Yeah, invest in Sharpies and start labeling. I'd put in a little camera to check on Mom too, maybe, although I'm not the type to do that so why I suggest I'm not sure....
But how mean are they, after all?
Whew. I would not do well. I'd be the aloof old lady in the corner still re-reading Sherlock Holmes.
I've always thought that many mean girls never grow up. Just look at how stupid so many high school reunions are, even at the 25 and 50-year marks. So sorry for your mother.
I always think about the nursing home my grandmother lived in while reading your posts Erica. she had women steal from her too.
And often, yes, those that are mean in early life continue the same behavior in nursing homes.
What to do?? My mother had to label everything with permanent marker right down to grandma's underwear.

The sad part is so many are used to having their own all the time before they get there. Then they want to extend that to the nursing home.

I found them sad places but needed.
I truly hope things get better.
Well of course, but why am I still surprised? I'm glad you're watching out for your mom. Think of those who don't have anyone. Sad.
Oh, God, I'm so sorry for your mom having to deal with this! Yikes. Can you get your mom another roomate besides the klepto?
That' so sad. It's so distressing to hear that this goes on in those facilities and that someone is stealing from your mother. Your mom is so lucky to have you. You are such a good daughter.
Just watched the video...ha!
I want to be Hell's Granny!
I kind of AM a Hell's Granny : )
I spend my last dimes on (soy)milk, tea and sugar(honey)....
Your poor mother! Find out who's the culprit and find passive agressive ways to menace her right back.
Yes me too.
I have noticed that the same people that were mean in school remain mean. We have my old alma mater on FB and you got it.. The former but still mean girl took over the whole group.
Man things do not change.
daisy jane, Yes, they are. Luckily my mom has a lady she's bonded with at the home, and so far, no sign of bullying.

Just Thinking, all her clothing is labelled but I found some of her stuff in the other lady's closet a couple times. I know I'm not supposed to look in there, but she's never in the room and I want my mom to have her own clothes! Crazy, right?

Mary, It's fine. She can hold her own. I've never been to a high school reunion, no interest.

Mission, all her clothing is labeled, as is her stuffed animal. So far none of her books have been taken. It's not that bad at her place. Thank you for the kind thoughts.

Firechick, I know. Some of the residents never have visitors. They always perk up when they see me.

Margie, no, I can't get her a new roommate. Besides the pilfering, the lady is okay.

Joanne, it's par for the course. If I could afford a private facility, I'd put her there or if we could afford to re-do our home and put a bedroom on the first floor and have a nurse 24/7 I'd do that too. Alas, I am not rich, so my options are limited.
JT, I want to be a Hell's Granny too! Aren't they awesome?

Linda, yes, right you are. The mean girls stay mean girls. Thanks for reading.

Miguela, Good idea.
Wow. I saw this kind of behavior on an episode of the Sopranos. I had no idea it existed in real life. ~r
Truth is stranger than fiction, Joan. :)
As the saying goes, "You don't change as you get older. You just get more like you really are."

(Although it may be that your mother's roommate's kleptomania may be something out of her control, especially if related to dementia.)

As others have said, it is good that she has you to look out for her.
Seems that old people and kids have much more in common than we think. R
Jeanette, yes, I have heard that too. Thanks.
Thoth, you are wise beyond your years . . .
Loved the video, sorry about the mean girls. It is so true though. I saw it with my father in his retirement home. It does make sense that mean girls turn into mean old ladies. Then you throw on lack of visitors and everything else and they can be awful. I always went out of my way to try to be extra nice to these ladies. I thought about what in their lives made them mean and hopefully in the last part of their lives I could make it better. I don't know if it helped but I truly felt sorry for them. Your mom is very lucky to have you. Good luck to you both.
and that picture of the two ladies and the cigar is just all kinds of awesomeness. That's how I want to be when I grow up!
Barbara, me too. I want to be a badass biddy! Did you watch the Monty Python clip of "Hell's Grannies" I included?
Barbara, I think some of the mean biddies are just lonely too. Sorry, I didn't see your first comment so I asked if you had watched the Monty Python clip.
And congrats for the courage to write this and the well deserved EP!!
Thanks, mission. You are a doll.
I follow your posts on aging and on your mother with interest, Erica. It is argued that we enter into a second childhood as the older we become, and the behaviours you describe seem to support that argument.
Have you thought about buying your mother a gun?
My father-in-law briefly had a nursing home roommate who assaulted him, tried to choke him. Sad, because the roommate was engaging, funny and kind when he was in his right mind. It's not always and only mean-spiritedness that comes into play here.

Thanks for an illuminating post!
My paternal grandma had to be strapped into her wheelchair the last several of her 104 years to keep her from cruising around the halls of her nursing home attacking other women she thought were having an affair with her husband who had died several years earlier. She was harder on her husband when he was alive than she was on her "competitors." I don't wanna drag it out myself when I reach that point, but I suppose when I do I won't be able to do much about it.
Wow. Just one more thing to look forward to... "Mean Girls In Assisted Living."
I hadn't thought about it but it makes sense, the mean kids grew up to be mean adults. I've always thought it's a shame that there isn't a way to separate mean people from nice people from childhood to work. They get away with it and lose no social standing so seem to just get meaner. I'm grateful I'm free in social situations to simply tell them stay away from me. I can't worry about how they feel about it since they don't care how I feel, my goal is to keep them away from me. I tolerated them for years because I wasn't focused on a goal that was good for me.

My dad is mean and got meaner as he got older. He can't get around much now so we can avoid him and it doesn't bother my mom or me anymore. Dementia and taking things because you are confused is not the same as being mean in your right mind. It's extremely sad there isn't a special place to put mean people when nice people are to old to get away from them. It's good to hear that someone is looking for ways to teach elderly victims to tell perpetrators they can't get away with doing as they wish.
Interesting! It never occcurred to me that young bullies become old bullies one day! And one can never have enough Monty Python, so thanks for that!

Enjoyed the post.
Very interesting. I know that sort of thing happens a lot. And so does stealing. Dementia does allow meanesss and foul language that was kept in check by ego to flow freely. Those who don't have a mean bone in their body are both lucky, and targets. I'm glad someone is addressing it. Thanks for your article on it.
Hi Erica,

I wanted to say again that you are such an amazingly wonderful daughter, and helpful to all the elderly and caretakers out there by your reporting on this important issue. I respect and look up to you so much as a daughter and a writer. Congratulations on your well-deserved EP, and all the others you have gotten. Your talent and heart touch my heart so much.
And I wanted to add that the video is hilarious. You bring tears but you always make me laugh! :)
This is sad. I saw some of it when my parents were in a nursing home, but most was related to dementia, which was at least understandable. I guess it's not surprising that it exists, but it's still sad. You would hope we would all grow up at some point.
Wonderful post as usual. Thank you! I'm always so surprised that people are surprised at what other people do and that there are boundaries. I have always lived and worked on some sort of edge and love to peek over into the dark side. A nursing home is the perfect place to sit on the side and watch human drama. When you have nothing to lose you can go anywhere and be with anyone. And the older we get the less it is about material possessions.

One of the interesting problems in our nursing home was we had the confused patients wandering into the wrong room and trying to get in bed with another confused person. Whew.

Enjoy the ride. And write about all the characters. Be safe and have fun. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff and it is all small stuff.
Prayers for your mom; I am glad she has you to advocate for her.
It's good she has you. Now, I have to call my mom.
Thank you, Fusun. That is so true.

LL, No, I haven't considered that option yet.

Rab, god, that's awful. I hope he has a better roommate now!

Chicken Maaan, How sad. I think I'd rather be euthanized than strapped to a chair. Hope my mom never gets to that point.

Drewonimo, no kidding.

L'Heure, Yes, meanies stay meanies, I think. Maybe some have a change of heart if life roughs them up a bit, but not so sure.

Witchy, Yes, Monty Python is one of my faves! I love the granny hooligans.

C. Berg, My mom has actually grown kinder and sweeter with the Alzheimers. It seems to work both ways. Thanks for reading.

Joanne, You are too kind. xox

Jlsathre, Some people never grow up. I know quite a few, as I'm sure we all do.

zanelle, thank you. Absolutely. The nursing home is a microcosm of the world "out there." Good idea, I will write about some of the other folks at the home. Plenty of material there. Yes, good advice. 2012 is already a better year for me. xo

Ashem, thank you very much.

Willett, Thanks. :)
After sleeping on it, I think I do suggest a mini camera keeping an eye on your mother, especially if she has dementia. My mother in law is just at this point of needing to be in full-time care. It's all so tough.
She too has gotten sweeter with Alzheimer's, funny how that can happen. She's forgotten all her reasons for rigidness, including food issues, which have also disappeared.
JT, not a bad idea, but I don't know if the nursing home would go for that. I'm kind of glad my mom can enjoy life more now, as odd as that may sound. Things in general bother her less, although she has physical pain and can't walk.
Do they have to know?
Those mini-cameras are for surreptitious observance....then one looks from one's computer at home. All this knowledge is gained second-hand I will say, but I'm not averse to protecting family who cannot do so themselves very well if I need to in the future....
I'm kind of pissed off your Mom has a kleptomaniac as roommate, she/you shouldn't have to wonder where her belongings are, she/you has/have enough to deal with.
Kleptos ought to be put together as roommates.
I laughed when I started reading this, and then I stopped. The ramifications of this are really awful. I'm still reeling from middle school and this is what's ahead of me! I hope your mom's ok.
I watched a wildly disruptive girl in my 8th grade class drop something on the floor the other day and try to get the people around her to pick it up for her. She has several followers and it was quite the raw display of power and manipulation. She has some kind of sad back story so she gets away with a lot, but this also made me see that she's a real bully no matter how you want to look at it.

I can easily imagine the things you describe and that are cited in the Times article.
Just Thinking, maybe I will do it. Yes, why do they have to know?

divorced pauline, sorry to scare you, but there are mean girls everywhere and of all ages.

MWG, manipulators start young and they continue manipulating throughout their later lives. Thanks for reading.
How did I miss this? So sad but so unsurprising. Why is it that wisdom seems to not hit so many? This all makes a terrible sense. I had a grandmother who would qualify as a biddy bully. Age just made her meaner. My god, she was a caricature of meanness.
As others said, thank god your mother has you.
Congrats on the well deserved EP.
Thanks for reading, fernsy. I do my best to protect Mom, but I can't be there 24/7. Oh well.
Erica, I'm glad your mom has you to look out for her. So many people in nursing homes are alone. I'm sure you're doing the best you can so don't be so hard on yourself.
PS. Love the Monty Python video - some things never get old, unlike people!
Even if your Mum had her own room the 'it's mine and I'll take it' mentality would still happen.
My mother is also in a Residential Nursing Home and even at 91 carries a key on a loop around her neck to lock her room.
Being England there are cctv camera's down all the halls and alarm bells on the doors/pressure mat alarms under the bed side carpets.

Good luck.
i am the activity director at a large nursing home. last month at resident council i had to address bullying with the group. i could barely keep my composure and it was very upsetting. my administrator was also in attendance and backed me up 100%. residents who make comments about other residents during activities will be asked to leave. there is a set of resident rights and we follow them to the letter but ALL residents have the right to attend activities and receive the assistance they need without being made fun of, commented about, or made to feel uncomfortable.
as for the dementia aspect, several posters here were correct - it can cause a loss of the ability to control one's behavior and those residents need to monitored carefully to ensure they are not agitating others.
'miguela', as to your comment "Your poor mother! Find out who's the culprit and find passive agressive ways to menace her right back." this is elderly abuse and should not be even mentioned. and 'just thinking', cameras would need to be installed by the home itself and would likely never happen. this is the residents' home and it is treated as such by the staff and management.
as someone in the environment 40+ hours a week, i would suggest bringing it to the attention of social services. that is what they are there for - to resolve issues exactly like this.
This is really interesting. A very mean woman who lived across the hall from my mother in AL took hold of my pinky one day and bent it backwards. I couldn't get free without slugging the mean old lady. So I just cried for help till an attendant ambled up.

She disappeared from the facility a few weeks later...
Like teachers these attendants are not paid enough. Excellent article, sorry it's about your mother...soon enough it will be one of us.
Erica, I used to work at a Convelescent Hospital and there are MANY bullies... I don't know why some are so mean...but we used to be kind of scared of them, too. I think it's a good idea about writing the names on things.
seaglass, Thank you for the sage advice regarding my mother. As I said in the post, the stealing of cookies and chips doesn't really bother me (don't sweat the small stuff, you know), but stealing her stuffed animal was awful, especially since her real cat died last March and I bought the stuffed animal to comfort her (it has worked wonders).

Barbara, wow! What a nutty lady!

Buffy, yes, absolutely right. I do my best to show my gratitude for their hard work, and there are some excellent ones. My mom's favorite aide is very loving and kind; I hope she never leaves.

Brazen, yes I have to write her name on her belongings now. But if someone REALLY wants her cookies or chips, I'm sure they will find a way to swipe them.
Communal living never has worked out all that great for human kind. A few rules have to be worked in so people can exist somewhat peacefully in groups. In a scenario like this, enforcement is extremely lax - the employees don't want to get too involved, just like in middle school. I hate knowing we are contemplating putting my Dad into LTC right now. In essence, it's death row and the inmates know it. 'Why not just do what I want?' (dementia notwithstanding). He will be the gentle kind man who would never start misbehaving even in the midst of his dementia as he was never that person in the history of the rest of his life. People don't change much, not really. I agree with your premise, good titling.
Gabby, I'm sorry to hear about your Dad. Yes, it is a version of death row. The last stop on the train.
You should get your mother out of that nursing home ASAP. No one should have to put up with such harassment.
Returnofgossamer, I cannot afford to take my m om out of the nursing home. My home is not handicap friend aly nor can I afford rouns the clock nursing care for her.
Excuse the typos, on the bus.