October is National Bullying Prevention Month.
You may have thought you left being bullied behind when you left the playground, but unfortunately senior bullying is a real issue that exists- especially in our senior living facilities. Bullying is defined as “aggressive behavior which: is intended to harm, occurs repetitively over time, contains an element of power differential, and occurs at any stage of life.” About 1 in 5 older adults reports experiencing bullying. Much like with elder abuse, the actual rate of senior bullying is likely larger than reported due to seniors neglecting to share their experiences for reasons such as not knowing where/how to report, shame, fear of retaliation or losing their housing, or not recognizing the behavior as bullying.
Why is this happening?
- If a senior was a bully in school, it’s likely they won’t suddenly grow out of the behavior.
- Some adults may become bullies as a way to regain control of their lives.
- It may be a reaction to having to share spaces and resources in living facilities.
- It’s important to note that some conditions such as Dementia can cause aggression, but the senior is not purposefully bullying.
Examples of bullying behavior
- The most common type of senior bullying is verbal abuse. This includes but is not limited to negative comments about another senior, ordering another senior around, or making passive aggressive comments.
- Damage to property, such as stealing from another senior, or purposefully damaging another senior’s belongings.
- Physical abuse such as physically harming another senior (e.g., hitting, punching, or kicking).
- Excluding another senior.
What are the risk factors of being bullied?
- Being a new resident of a senior living facility.
- Being widowed or divorced.
- Lack of a support network.
- Living with mental illness.
- Being introverted, shy, or passive.
How to protect your loved ones (or yourself!)
- Know what counts as bullying and what is just unpleasant behavior.
- When visiting a living facility, visit during a meal – are people sitting together? Are others being excluded?
- Ask staff whether they provide anti-bullying training for staff or residents.
- Are there behavioral contracts residents must sign before living in the facility?
- Ask whether they have policies in place to deal with senior bullying.
- If you see bullying occur, alert staff or speak up.