Jun 28, 2012

How We Can Stop Older Americans From Being “Bullied”

Written By: Ingrid Donato, Mental Health Promotion Branch Chief, Center for Mental Health Services. Crosspost from SAMHSA Blog.

Bullying-like aggression can happen to people of all ages – including older Americans. One has to look no further than the situation of Karen Klein, the 68-year-old monitor of Bus 784 in Greece, NY who was tormented by adolescents in a school bus.

Although bullying is typically defined as occurring among youth, what happened on this bus shows that this type of aggression can happen to anyone.  For older adults these problems can occur in many settings, including their homes and long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes or assisted living residences. Bullying can come at the hands of many people in direct contact with elders, including caregivers, family, or even facility residents.

One of the most painful forms of bullying is isolation.

As hard as it is to spot, and sometimes accept, offenders may include family members and old friends, newly developed “friends” who intentionally prey on older adults, and service providers in positions of trust.

While there is no typical profile of an abuser, the following are some behavioral signs that may indicate problems:

  • Abusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Controlling elder’s actions: whom they see and talk to, where they go
  • Isolating elders from family and friends, which can increase dependence
  • Emotional/ financial dependency on elder; inability to be self‐sufficient
  • Threatening to leave or send elder to a nursing home
  • Appearing to be indifferent to the child or elder; seeming apathetic or hostile
  • Minimizing an elder’s injuries, blaming victim or others for the abuse, neglect, or exploitation
  • Threatening to harm a victim’s pet
  • Calling the elder and or young person names
  • Previous criminal history
  • Longstanding personality traits (bad temper, hypercritical, tendency to blame others for problems)

Taking time to listen and to really “hear” people–of any age—are the first lines of defense against bullying.  Looking for these signs and carefully talking with the older people in your life can be an important first step in determining whether or not there is a problem.  If you know someone who is being bullied or is a victim of aggressive behavior, there are steps you can take to get the bullying to stop – and the information is available at stopbullying.gov.

If you suspect elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse to find phone numbers for your state, or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.  If someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police.

Through communication and action, older Americans and people of all ages can free themselves of the risks, torment and trauma of events like what happened on Bus 784.