Elder abuse and bullying among seniors

Jun 15, 2024
Source: Getty Images.

We are all familiar with bullies. They often sprout in grammar school, junior high, or high school. Many of us have incurred the wrath of bullies because of the way we look, whether we dressed fashionably, or had other afflictions that separated us from others.

But bullying doesn’t always decrease as somebody matures. Sometimes it resurrects itself as we get older and is fairly common among seniors after retirement.

According to seniorresourceconnections.org, bullying is defined as “aggressive behavior which is intended to harm, occurs repetitively over time, contains an element of power differential, and occurs at any stage of life.”

I was surprised to learn that about 1 in 5 older adults has experienced bullying. As with elder abuse, the actual rate of senior bullying is likely larger than reported due to seniors neglecting to share their experiences for a variety of reasons.
Often this type of behavior isn’t reported by those being mistreated because of a lack of knowledge regarding resources, a feeling of shame, fear, and helplessness.

The most common type of senior bullying is verbal abuse. This includes but is not limited to negative comments about another senior, ordering another senior around, or making passive-aggressive comments.

The first time I encountered senior bullying was when I was a volunteer at the Culver City Senior Center in Los Angeles. I was surprised at how territorial some seniors could be regarding the smallest things. Some were possessive about where they sat at lunchtime. I would see people saving seats, and lashing out at others who tried to sit at their tables. I often witnessed the exclusion of newcomers in various classes. It was like I was in grammar school all over again.

In my senior singing group, there was one friend of mine who was very cruel toward newcomers. Although she was very nice to me and people that she already knew in our group, newcomers were treated very poorly. Another woman in our singing group became very possessive of me when I started singing duets with another woman. She never included her at our luncheons or singing engagements. I think she wanted me all to herself.

Here in Florida, there is a woman who regularly plays cards with us. Weekly, she is admonished by others who think she doesn’t fit in. She has an abrasive personality, but rather than trying to understand her, people overtly shun her. I’ve heard all sorts of gossip about her, and to witness such behavior makes me very uncomfortable.

I have always tried to include newcomers because I know what it’s like. Sometimes it’s been very uncomfortable, but I have tried to use humor to deflect this type of behavior and gain the favor of others. Bully behavior can often increase with age because some feel less in control of their lives. By trying to control others, it gives them a sense of power and security.

Elder abuse is a common form of bullying that we have all heard about among caregivers. I belong to a couple of caregiving groups, and I regularly hear the complaints of those who are caring for their loved ones. The complaints are rampant about the stress that they are under, and how they feel overworked and under-appreciated.

But the abuse goes both ways with the caregivers often neglecting, and mistreating those that they love. In 2019, my partner Erika and I moved down here to care for her mother Dorothy, who lived with us for 3 1/2 years. It was very stressful for Erika because she was used to her mother caring for her as a child. To have the parent/child roles reversed was extremely hard on her, and I often noticed she was getting short with her mother. As her mother’s health deteriorated, Erika’s patience waned and we knew it was time to put her mother into an assisted living facility.

A high school friend confided to me that she was often verbally abused by her mother who had lots of money and used that to control her. You see abuse goes both ways when you are a caregiver.

Have you been bullied as a senior? What has been your experience with this and do you deal with it now?

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