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Bullying Among Older Adults: The Basics, Part 1 of 4

By Emilee Evans, Legan Intern

In light of October being Domestic Violence Awareness month, it is important to recognize forms of domestic violence that are largely underrepresented and not frequently brought to the public’s attention. Bullying among older adults is a misrepresented issue that may constitute a form of domestic violence. The questions then arise: What is bullying among older adults? Where may it occur? When do issues begin? Why do these disputes happen and how can we help? Many factors play a role in senior bullying. In order to ensure a healthy and happy life after retirement, the first important step is to become aware of the issue and its complexity.

So what is bullying among older adults? Bullying involves intentional and aggressive actions of peers used to threaten or intimidate a person, and is often repeated.

In long-term care facilities, bullying may be considered as a form of Resident-to-Resident Aggression (RRA). An estimated 10-20% of residents in institutional settings are likely to have experienced bullying, while around 40-60% have experienced agitation and aggression. Institutional bullying among older adults may be either or both mental and physical, and each have been found to have significant health impacts on victims.

When do these issues begin?  Tension may arise from a variety of sources; communication challenges, wandering residents, calling out/making noises, territoriality challenges of communal living (such as competition over a preferred chair in the television room or dining room), lack of communication and compromising with roommates (over things like television volume and heat or air conditioning preferences), along with impatience, loneliness, and racial or ethnic stereotyping, etc. In this way, triggers have a significant influence, sometimes leading to aggressive behavior and outcomes which often involve bullying or feelings of being bullied.

Why do these disputes happen and how can we help? Long-term care facilities are communal living areas.  With this comes friend groups, social norms, lunch tables, ethnic differences, language barriers, and more factors that could potentially create boundaries among residents.  Many residents who feel their mental capacities are higher than others, or see their status as higher, or even residents who have been residing within the home longer, may adapt aggressive and abusive behavior.  It is important to note, however, that an individual who might yell or strike out is not necessarily a bully if the dynamics of power and control are absent; however, feelings of being bullied are still important and call for intervention. There are several factors that may lead to a resident experiencing abuse. These factors include: gender of the aggressor, behavioral disturbances like wandering, functional dependency, and cognitive impairment.

Within long-term care facilities, proposals have been made for differences in staffing techniques and new preventative programs to focus on preventing individuals from becoming bullies and minimizing cases of bullying. On an individual level, many YouTube videos assist in learning strategies to teach assertiveness for victims. Both of these points will be discussed in later blogs, but beginning with awareness of the complexity of bullying among older adults will then allow us to dive into solution proposals.

For more information on senior bullying you can go to

References used:

Bonifas, Robin and Frankel, Marsha. “The Senior Bullying Series Part I:  What is Bullying?” My Better Nursing Home: Resources to Create Long-Term Care Where EVERYBODY Thrives, February 8, 2012. Accessed October 2, 2017.

Lachs, M., Van Haitsma, K., Teresi, J. A., Pillemer, K., Hymowitz, E., & Del Carmen, T. (2010). “Why they fight: Event reconstruction of resident-to-resident elder mistreatment (RREM) in long term care facilities”. The Gerontologist, 50(S1), 358.

Rex-Lear, Madeline. “Not Just a Playground Issue: Bullying Among Older Adults and the Effects on their Physical Health”. The University of Texas at Arlington, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2011. 3473995. Accessed October 2, 2017.

Schoen, Julie and Pillemer, Karl. “Resident-to-Resident Elder Mistreatment in Nursing Homes: Findings from the First Prevalence Study”. Powerpoint from The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care (formerly NCCNHR), February 2, 2016.

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