May 11, 2011

NETHERLANDS: Serious Seniors Bullying - Dutch set up anti-bullying guidelines for elderly

AMSTERDAM/  Radio Netherlands Worldwide / International / Europe / May 11, 2011

By Thijs Westerbeek van Eerten

Illustration: Nationaal Ouderenfonds

Sweet little old grannies can also be merciless bullies

Bullying is so widespread in Dutch old people’s homes that the National fund for the Elderly (Nationaal Ouderenfonds) has developed an anti-bullying protocol it provides to old people’s homes on request.

The protocol offers a number of practical tips and possible approaches to deal with bullying. A study conducted last year showed that no less than one in five residents of old people’s homes are being bullied by fellow residents.

“It gets really bad sometimes”, Patrick Arnhem says. He has been working for decades as a geriatric helper at a major Amsterdam care institution. Since a few years ago, he has been in charge of a small-scale living unit for demented senior citizens. And that is exactly the demographic where bullying can be at its worst:

“When one of the residents has their regular spot, and the others find out about it, they’ll start harassing that person. For instance by pushing the other person with their feet under the table, or grabbing the other person’s chair and continuously shoving it back and forth."


The fact that these people are suffering from dementia is a complicating factor. They often don’t remember they were bullying somebody, or that they were told not to. Sometimes there is only one solution: excluding the bully from communal activities.

Director Jan Romme of the Nationaal Ouderenfonds confirms that exclusion is sometimes the only answer, but he says that the new protocol offers a variety of ‘handles’ to deal with old people who are suffering from dementia as well as those who are still ‘all there’.

“First off, we believe it’s important for old people’s homes to have a trusted intermediary on their staff to whom old people who are being bullied can go for advice. Also, care institutions should put the subject on the agenda several times a year, for instance during a special meeting. And it’s important for old people to be properly introduced when they join a new care group.”

Encouraging debate

The Nationale Ouderenfonds has published four posters that care institutions can use to encourage debate, which, according to Mr Romme, is no luxury. The children and grand children of the residents often think of their relative as a sweet old granny. They have great difficulty coming to grips with the fact that things can get real tough

“Exclusion is a serious form of bullying, but things can get a lot worse. We have heard reports involving groups of old people attacking another old person with their walkers. They kept bumping into their victim. Not just once, but just about every day.” ’

Pressure of work

To which is added the next problem: work pressure in care. Jan Romme says the protocol is not intended to add another responsibility to the job description of geriatric helpers. “We are already short-staffed the way things are now.” Which explains why Mr Romme believes this could be a job for volunteers: “It’s a rewarding job. When you listen closely, give some attention and keep an eye open, you can give so much happiness to an old person. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Copyright: Radio Netherlands Worldwide