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Home / Letters To The Editor / The perils and triumphs of getting old

The perils and triumphs of getting old

First Lady Melania Trump is interested in the well-being of children and is concentrating on discouraging cyber-bullying of teens. On the day she announced her formal platform, I was in front of my house trying to kick-start the 1978 Triumph motorcycle my wife Cheryl had given me for my birthday. Although these days Triumphs have electric starters, Steve McQueen, Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan didn’t have electric starters on their Triumphs — so I don’t, either. The thing is, I’m a little older than they were in their halcyon Triumph-riding days. Kicking that starter sometimes feels as though I’m trying to kick a wedge through an oak tree.

I was attempting to muscle my classic motorcycle into a triumphant roar when someone drove by and yelled: “Who are you kidding? You’re too old…get a trike!” I presumed he meant an electric-starting three-wheel “motorcycle” — a bike upon which my fragile self-image would not allow me to be caught dead.

My calf eventually got too sore from trying to wake up the Triumph, so I sulked into the house and told Cheryl that some jerk had suggested I buy a three-wheeler. My wife’s response: “You’re lucky that’s all he said.” You know, Melania Trump is in the news talking about bullying kids, but last week I read an article about how bad bullying has gotten in the elder community. I took immediate and profound offense at her implication that I was old. Anyway, I had never heard, or even thought about, an old person being bullied, and I couldn’t recall a single case in law school that touched upon that subject. So, I put on my glasses and decided to do some research.

As it turns out, as the American population has become older, senior-circuit bullying has become more prevalent. Across America, nursing homes and senior-care facilities are confronting senior bullying (and don’t forget about the problems stay-at-home individuals may be having). I’m not talking about the young and able-bodied picking on the elderly, although that also is a problem at times. I’m referring to same-generation bullying — bullying of the elderly by the elderly. The techniques are different than youth bullying, in that there is not much cyber-bullying of the aged. That’s presumably because the older population is less efficient with modern bullying tools — or perhaps because bullying somebody in a medium they don’t know how to use and mostly never see isn’t particularly satisfying. For whatever reason, it seems elder-bullying lurks in bingo halls, lunchrooms and laundromats rather than on the internet and social platforms. I read one report about “thugs” stealing laundry detergent. Another report said there were cliques at senior facilities and nasty groups of typical “mean girls,” but in these cases, the girls are in their 80s!

Elders bullying other elders often manifests itself through ostracism, resulting in a powerful person or group keeping the bullied senior(s) on the “outside” of the social structure. Most reports I read on the subject indicate that about one in five individuals living in senior-community settings are victims of bullying. Needless to say, social isolation of individuals who may have already experienced significant personal losses — such as the death of a spouse or the natural deterioration of physical and/or mental capabilities — exacerbates a potentially difficult time in life.

Programs are being conducted to educate senior facility personnel and seniors themselves (including the “bullies”) on the ramifications and consequences of bullying. One of those future ramifications is sure to be more lawsuits.

Although senior-bullying is not typically physical in nature, it happens. Take, for example, the case of Marsha Wetzel. Ms. Wetzel is a senior who had lost her life partner and was subsequently evicted from her home by the partner’s heirs. She checked into a Chicago-area living community, where her lawsuit contends she was faced with relentless physical bullying by people who ran into her scooter with a walker, rammed her dining-room table with a wheelchair, told her “homosexuals will burn in hell” and hit and spit on her. A trial judge threw out her suit, in which she sought recovery based upon a Fair Housing Act violation. The suit is on appeal. She may be hoping to find a more sympathetic audience among the generally older appellate judges.

As the population continues to age and new protections are afforded through statutes and the courts, the area of elder law is burgeoning. Generally elder law focuses on securing medical care, estate planning and the like. More and more, however, it is expanding to include protecting the rights of elders within society.

The topic of elder-bullying is very unsettling. The more I learn about it, the more my decision to never live in a senior facility rings true. I do, however, promise you this. If I change my mind, I’m taking my Triumph motorcycle with me, and if anyone tries to bully me I’m just going to run them over — that’s assuming I can find an agile old lady who is willing to help me kick-start the darn thing!

Levison, Mark2018 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm Lashly & Baer, P.C. Contact Under Analysis by e-mail at [email protected].