Those mean girls in the lunchroom from your middle and high school years have not gone away—they just got older.
Senior bullying is something many older adults have to endure, with 10 to 20 percent of seniors experiencing one form of bullying or another, says Sheli Monacchio, CDP, CADDCT, CMDCP, founder of Caring Connections of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, a network of healthcare professionals that serve the aging community and director of life care resources at Princeton-based Van Dyck Law. Incidents are actually much higher because there is a lack of reporting.
“Seniors are bullied all the time, even by their own families,” says Monacchio. “The mean girls who were in high school and middle school grew up and they are still here. Older people bully each other out of fear, they don’t want to be the person they are picking on. It empowers then and makes them feel important.”
Verbal abuse is the most common form of senior bullying. It can take place between spouses, children and parents or caregivers and patients. Verbal abuse is when the bully makes sarcastic, mean or derogatory remarks to the victim that causes embarrassment, humiliation or domination.
Other forms of bullying include:
- Narcissistic-where the bully wants control and has no empathy for others.
- Impulsive-these are spontaneous, less planned out acts of bullying.
- Physical aggression
- Control bullying-controlling someone who does not need to be controlled, usually through humiliation and verbal abuse.
- Secondary bullying-this bully is the person who goes along with the person who is doing the bullying. They have the mindset that if they go along with the bullying they won’t be bullied themselves, it becomes a survival instinct.
- Cyber bullying-older people are picked on and victimized just like young people. They are even more susceptible to this because they are less familiar with the technology.
Single seniors are especially susceptible to being the victims of bullying because they do not have a support network and someone to stand up for them.
Most bullying victims are afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation, they won’t be believed, they will lose their caregiver, they will be labeled a complainer, or they don’t want to bother their family. Family, or advocate if the family is not available, involvement is key to preventing bullying or stopping it if it occurs.
Unannounced, unscheduled pop-in visits are essential so you can see what happens regularly when they are not expecting someone. It is vital to spend time with your loved one and the caregiver to observe their relationship. Knowing the caregiver is key.
“The one-on-one nature of the caregiver-patient relationship can make it easy for a senior to be manipulated or bullied,” says Monacchio. “Families and friends need to be proactive on behalf of their senior loved ones.”
Signs of possible bullying are changes in behavior, changes in appetite, avoidance and any other behavior that is out of character or doesn’t feel right. Other indicators that something is not right with a caregiver, whether at home or in a facility, include:
- Inappropriate touching
- Whispering between the caregiver and patient
- Avoidance of visitation from family or friends
- Observe what the senior is eating and how much they are eating
- Unexplained changes in financial accounts
- Requests to change legal documents, such as updating a will to include a non-family caregiver
Monacchio recommends that seniors have a power of attorney and financial power of attorney that allows a trusted family member or legal representative to monitor the seniors’ financials and take action on their behalf if the senior can’t and the situation warrants.
A reputable, licensed home care agency offers training for home health aides that address elder abuse, domestic abuse and more annually. The training must be done annually as part of the continuing education that goes toward the renewal of the certified home health license for caregivers. Abuse training is a mandated requirement by the state of New Jersey.