What is the incidence of bullying in older adults?
The incidence of bullying among seniors is confusing to me. Senior living should provide excellent opportunities to make new friends, convene with others with similar interests, and get involved in activities. However, the reality is that this is not the case. There can be the formation of cliques and other social behaviors that can be very detrimental to a community. Even seniors living in their own homes can be the victims of bullying. They may not be invited to a neighborhood barbecue or other event or be shunned in their social circle.
The AARP's most recent statistics are from 2015, and they say between 10 and 20% of older adults are bullied. Some statistics go a little bit higher to 20 to 25%. It is very tough to tease out these numbers as they are not precise, and many acts go unreported. Bullied individuals living in these communities may be bullied, teased, or taunted, but they may keep this to themselves. They may be embarrassed or afraid that if they tell somebody, it will get worse. We do not hear about these bullying stories, but it looks similar to bullying among younger age groups.
Bullying can happen in many different places and contexts, like senior centers, nursing homes, senior living communities, and any place where our seniors spend a lot of time together. They share resources like tables and chairs, elevators, stairwells, parking spaces, and TVs. We also see bullying among seniors over technology, like via phone, email, instant messaging, social media, et cetera. That is electronic bullying, and again, no different than we see in our children.
Some bullying may fall into other criminal categories, like harassment, hazing, and assault.
There are gender differences, but generally speaking, men and women are equally as likely to be victims and aggressors. Typically, most of the bullying we see is verbal abuse
(Hazelden Foundation, 2008; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.; Senior Bullying, 2015)
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Bullying Among Older Adults: Not Just A Playground Problem, by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP.