Mean Girls and Nursing Homes

Cherry Blossoms in London April 2013

Weeks ago I printed out an article on the study mentioned in this piece, and I’ve been meaning to circle back to discuss the topic. It fits into what I’ve been thinking about lately regarding how bullying happens throughout the “gifted lifetime,” and makes relational aggression a problem for gifted people of all ages. It’s also something that I’ve witnessed during my own mother’s time in nursing homes.

However, Jennifer Weiner (one of my favorite contemporary novelists) does such a fine job in this NY Times article that I think I’ll just tempt you with a snipped and encourage you to go read the full story:

The notion that a threat to seniors is their peers is somewhat new, and usually played for laughs. It goes against a truism handed down from mothers to daughters for generations: This, too, shall pass. Mean girls are not girls, or mean, forever. High school doesn’t last forever, everyone grows up. But Nanna’s experience suggests otherwise. It says that the cruel, like the poor, are always with us, that mean girls stay mean — they just start wearing support hose and dentures.

A recent Cornell University study by Karl Pillemer proves the point, showing that aggression among residents in nursing homes is widespread and “extremely high rates of conflict and violence” are common. According to the study’s news release, one in five residents was involved in at least one “negative and aggressive encounter” with another resident during a four-week period. Sixteen percent were cursed or yelled at; 6 percent were hit, kicked or bitten; 1 percent were victims of “sexual incidents, such as exposing one’s genitals, touching other residents, or attempting to gain sexual favors;” and 10.5 percent dealt with other residents’ entering their rooms uninvited, or rummaging through their belongings. [Read more]

H/T to my friend Corin for sharing this article via social media.


  1. This is so sad…and horrible. I’ve always joked that adult life is like high school…with just more money. My grandfather was in a nursing home several years ago. His roommate definitely stole his belongings, as my grandfather (by that point) was unable to speak. I find it interesting at just how many women are in nursing homes, compared to men. Wonder if this has something to do with the bad behavior.

    • My hunch says the gender difference is tied to the fact that women live longer on the whole and therefore are more apt to experience a physical or cognitive decline. Just a hunch.

      And, yes, theft is rampant.

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