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July 2, 2014

Seniors and Bullying

Most of us think that bullying is a childhood issue—one that fades into the past once we reach adulthood. However, seniors are victims of bullying, too. In fact, some reports show that seniors face bullying more often than children. Being aware of senior bullying can help caregivers address the issue.

Seniors are targets of bullies.

Bullying encompasses cruel actions by a person who takes advantage of another’s weakness. Unfortunately, some people see seniors as vulnerable and try to take advantage of that perceived weakness. As a result, seniors become victims of fraud and crime, or they may be treated harshly by a close relative. Scare tactics and verbal intimidation cause the victim to feel powerless. Often, these instances go unreported because seniors are too ashamed to admit that they have found themselves in these situations.

Seniors who live in assisted living facilities or who have in-home health care may also become victims of bullying. Seniors in these settings have varying degrees of physical limitations and may feel inadequate. While this group of seniors is not necessarily targeted, they may become victims of staff members or caregivers who bully them for no particular reason. Whether the bullying is physical or emotional, it is traumatic at any age. Because of that, it is important to make sure that the individuals trusted to care for seniors are checked through multiple interviews, screening tools and criminal background checks. These processes, while not universal, are ones that reputable facilities and in-home care companies have in place.

Seniors can be bullies, too.

Peer-to-peer bullying within senior social circles is also quite prevalent. This is most common among seniors who participate in regular group activities or who live in senior communities or assisted living facilities. The bullying often takes the form of negative gossip, public snubbing, exclusion from social gatherings, or cruel treatment by other seniors. This causes the victims emotional anguish that is painful to overcome. Victims in these settings may also keep the fact that they are being bullied to themselves, either because they are embarrassed, or because they have no close friends or family to tell.

Why do some seniors become bullies?

There is no definitive answer to this question. Some seniors are simply bullies. However, seniors who suffer from dementia are more prone to become confused and may act aggressively because they feel threatened and disoriented. Seniors who do not welcome aging with open arms may become disorderly and antagonistic towards others.

The only way bullying can be prevented is to educate people on the ways it can occur and to encourage onlookers to intervene. Pay close attention to senior loved ones when visiting. Look for signs of isolation or emotional distress that may be the result of bullying. Start conversations about how common bullying can be in senior circles and ask your loved one if he or she has witnessed bullying or ever been a victim of it. These steps can empower seniors by letting them know that they are not alone, and that they can look to you for help if they are being bullied.


Searson, L. (n.d.). Senior bullying. Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook. Retrieved from

Patrick, S. (July 26, 2012). Sholeh: Bullying a senior problem, too. The Coeur d' Alene Press. Retrieved from

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