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What is the Incidence of Bullying in Older Adults?

Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP

February 15, 2023



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 Problemby Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP.

kathleen weissberg

Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP

Dr. Kathleen Weissberg, in her 29 years of practice, has worked in rehabilitation and long-term care as an executive, researcher and educator.  She has established numerous programs in nursing facilities; authored peer-reviewed publications on topics such as low vision, dementia quality care, and wellness; has spoken at numerous conferences both nationally and internationally. She provides continuing education support to over 17,000 individuals nationwide as National Director of Education for Select Rehabilitation. She is a Certified Dementia Care Practitioner, Certified Montessori Dementia Care Practitioner and a Certified Fall Prevention Specialist.  She serves as the Region 1 Director for the American Occupational Therapy Association Political Action Committee adjunct professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA and Gannon University in Erie, PA.  


Related Courses

Bullying Among Older Adults: Not Just A Playground Problem
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP
Course: #5660Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'great strategy for managing behaviors in long term care and skilled facilities'   Read Reviews
The definition and incidence of bullying in adult living communities and day centers including what older adult bullying looks like in this population are reviewed in this session. Characteristics of older adult bullies as well their targets and gender differences will be explored. The reasons why bullying occurs as well as the five different types of bullies are defined. Interventions for the organization, the bully, and the target will be reviewed to help communities minimize (and prevent where possible) bullying and mitigate the effects on the target. Addressing bullying behavior among older adults is critically important for enhancing quality of life and promoting emotional well-being; strategies to create caring and empathic communities for all residents and staff members are also reviewed.

Fostering Meaning And Purpose For Individuals In Senior Living
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, MS, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS
Live WebinarWed, Apr 5, 2023 at 12:00 pm EDT
Wed, Apr 5, 2023 at 12:00 pm EDT


Kathleen Weissberg, MS, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS
Course: #5937Level: Introductory1 Hour
Despite such positive outcomes of meaningful engagement, recent studies have suggested that elderly residents are inactive most of their time, are engaged in passive activities, and do not experience significant verbal interaction with their caregivers. This session explores meaningful activities by focusing on the intersection of the individual, his/her occupations, and the environment. Participants are offered techniques for soliciting individual preferences, interests, roles, and hobbies and using these to encourage client choice and control over activities and occupations of interest.

Tools to Optimize Quality Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care: Tackling Loneliness and Social Isolation
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L
Course: #4961Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'So many ideas, confirmation of importance of "small" things we often do naturally'   Read Reviews
This session will review practical and cost-effective strategies care providers can implement to impact these areas. Following the framework of person-centered care, providers will hear about meaningful and purposeful activity, sensory, technology, and wellness strategies they can implement to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of isolation.

Fall Management: Evidence-Based Interventions for Screening and Intervention
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L
Course: #9453Level: Intermediate2 Hours
  'The instructor presented the material in a clear, linear way'   Read Reviews
This session will review evidence-based screening and intervention strategies applicable to a balance and falls management program including research-based exercise programs, environmental modification, patient and caregiver education and balance retraining activities. Falls management program rationale and implementation is also discussed as well as interdisciplinary techniques and strategies to reduce fall risk in the elderly.

Elder Abuse and Child Abuse: Know the Signs and Your Role
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L
Course: #4370Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'good examples of different types of abuse'   Read Reviews
Elder abuse and neglect and child abuse and neglect are harsh realities. This course will identify the physical, clinical, and behavioral indicators of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse needed to identify and report to appropriate agencies. Participants will gain an improved awareness of warning signs of abuse, the clinician's role in reporting abuse, and the steps for reporting abuse and getting proper assistance.

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