"Well, something happened," the senior said before describing a pattern of bullying to Minchello, who said the decision to stay away from the center could have led to isolating behavior that kept the senior from medication and nutrition services.
Teenage bullying received national attention after educators and prosecutors linked bullying incidents to suicides among young people. Senior bullying is a relatively new description for behavior Minchello said parallels descriptions of incidents she hears as a member of a middle school anti-bullying task force.
"You'll hear, 'This seat is taken.' There are even fights. It's just like middle school," she said.
Minchello said it can be difficult for senior advocates to reach out to seniors who isolate themselves rather than ask for help to end bullying. State law allows seniors to refuse health and nutrition services.
"They sometimes make decisions that are not in their best interest," she said. "A bullied senior's health can go down fast."
Dembkoski's flyer read in part: "Most buildings have a serial bully. It never ceases to amaze me how one person's divisive, disordered, dysfunctional behavior can permeate the entire building like a cancer.
"People who are bullies when they are young are bullies when they are old," Dembkoski said, adding some seniors who worked in jobs requiring aggressive personalities sometimes bring those traits with them when they move into senior housing.
"It's serious. Ultimately, in some cases, the police need to be involved," she said.
Council on Aging workers in the Silsbee senior center also work with other social service agencies and police to spot warning signs of elder abuse.
Dembkoski said helping seniors recognize abuse and get help is important.
"We often can't get people to stand up for themselves," she said.
Fabens building property manager Patty Dravinskas said bullying among the Union Street building's 45 residents has not come to her attention, but building managers have had to post schedules for common rooms to help eliminate friction between residents with different interests.
"We had a couple of problems with the pool table and Bingo players. It came down to too many people in one room," she said.
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