Michele's Blog

Elderly Online Bullying

By Michele Scott

IN-HOME CARE

You have looked at all the options and decided to provide in-home senior care. You’re excited because they can remain in the home they love, or you’ve provided a private in-home suite in your existing home. Your loved ones are cared for physically and emotionally and the few hours they are left on their own provide them with the privacy needed to maintain dignity and self-respect. Although you are trying to do what is best, and you feel you have checked off all the boxes, many caregivers miss one of the fastest growing behavioral challenges for the elderly in today’s techy environment; senior and elderly trolling and bullying.

A recently reported study found people over 65 were associated with more fake news producing domains and shared more fake news than any other age group. The study also found their political leanings were equally divided between republicans, democrats and independents. What is more interesting is 22% of the elderly sharing on social media platforms were bed-ridden, home-bound or elderly orphaned (aging without family). Society teaches with age comes wisdom, increased diversity and “street knowledge”. This study and many more like it indicate a need to change this thinking – at least for 22% of this population.

We know social media, trolling, bullying and fake news has reached a younger population. This study tells us it has reached the population we historically trusted the most. As seniors become more comfortable with technology we insist they transition from desktop to laptop to mobile devices. All of a sudden Mom, dad, grandma and grandpa must have internet, cell phones, iPads, readers, and cable television. It’s important to include them in the technology of the day, to keep them informed of what’s going on around them and make it easier to reach out to them without making a visit or imparting physical contact. Surveys suggest home-bound and bed-ridden elderly were given devices to busy them throughout the day. Readers replaced actual books, streaming from subscribed apps replaced network television and cable news channels replaced newspapers. The mental health community attributes this trend to the availability and increased introduction of technology and media to the elderly.

Yes, there are benefits to online access. Senior chat rooms give the elderly the opportunity to meet new people. “SeniorLiving.org reports; “Many times these chat rooms will have forums that are designated for special interests. You may be able to find a group for gardeners, fishers, or knitting enthusiasts. If you see a group labeled as such, you can join it and chat with others who share your interests. This can be a great way to meet other people and remain social. Besides meeting new people, senior chat rooms can help keep the mind active which can ward off medical issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” As you can see, the benefits are many, yet surveys have found protections are needed.

IN-HOME PROTECTION

The same tools used to protect children, adolescents and teens from online bullying and trolls can be used to protect the elderly. Monitoring sites they are visiting, blocking inappropriate websites and using parental controls on televisions and streaming devices can help – however, remember these are adults; healthy conversations on what constitutes inappropriate or unhealthy content should be had. Psychiatrists, counselors and/or therapist can help in providing a technical assessment of the benefits of blocking access to patients diagnosed with depression, behavioral disorders, emotional instability and/or dementia.

Studies suggest elderly to elderly or home-bound to home-bound trolling or bullying consists mostly of verbal abuse. Seniors who find they can no longer care for themselves, elderly who are forced from the home they love; the newly diagnosed, depressed, elderly orphaned, and widowed / divorced are at risk of being a recipient or source of bullying. Loss of independence, the ability to handle finances, make medical decisions, drive, or come and go as they please can trigger unhealthy, callous behavior.

Technology offers home-bound, bedridden patients the opportunity to stay mentally active and emotionally involved. They can connect with family, make new friends and stay connected with old ones. The wealth of knowledge and information and the long list of conveniences gives the elderly the opportunity to maintain a sense of self-indulgence and self-respect. With one handheld instrument they can gain information at their own speed, make purchases without leaving their beds, refill prescriptions, schedule appointments, listen to music – of their choice, and watch what they want to watch – when they want to watch it.  When trolling and bullying is controlled or avoided, cell phones, iPads, readers and streaming apps can be one of the elderly’s greatest assets and most valuable technological tools.