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Some common characteristics of people who bully:

•  Seek to control others

•  Feel important by:

•  Being powerful and controlling

•  Making others feel threatened, fearful or hurt

•  Causing and observing conflict between people

•  Have difficulty tolerating individual differences

•  Have a lack empathy

•  Likely to have few friends and social relationships

At the same time, bullying among older adults also seems to be associated with loss.

•  Loss of sense of value  

•  Loss of social identity and roles

•  Loss of family and a sense of belonging

Older bullies may be seeking control at a time in their life when they feel powerless.

•  Some negative behaviors may be attempts to regain a sense of self identity

Elderly women tend to engage in more passive aggressive behavior like gossiping and whispering. Men are more likely to make negative in-your-face comments and threats of physical harm. Both can become territorial in their environment.

Characteristics of peoplewho are bullied:

•  Typically have trouble defending themselves.

•  Do nothing to “cause” the bullying.

•  Often experience a sense of powerlessness

Two types of people are often targeted with bullying:

Passive Targets

•  May be highly emotional over loss of independence and recent life changes

•  Have difficulty in social  interactions

•  May be shy and insecure

•  May have early stage dementia

•  Have racial/ethnic, spiritual beliefs, or sexual orientation perceived as “different.”

Proactive Targets

•  New to the facility

•  Friendly, outgoing, and well liked (Seen as a threat to the Bully’s status)

•  Have frequent family and  guest visits

•  Have nicer personal  property items

Who are these Bullies?

Individuals who bully their peers often exhibit these behaviors:

•  Intimidate staff

•  Being Bossy with no real friends

•  Constantly Criticize and Complain about others

Most seniors have extraordinary strategies for coping with the challenges of bullying. They take care of the problem without it escalating and having to be addressed by family and facilities staff.  Ways they handle the situation themselves are:

•  Avoid contact

•  Do not respond or engage

•  Just “let it go” or tune it out

•  Work to calm others down and diffuse

•  Spend time with pets or in individual activities

•  Build Relationship with supportive individuals

•  If needed get the staff involved to separate them from the  environment

What you can do as the family of the Elder is make sure they are not showing signs of anxiety or stress, and watch for depression. Be sure to ask questions and listen for clues. Check in with the staff for updates on changes in routine or social involvement. A good facility will be aware of any unusual behaviors and the social climate.

It is very important to make sure an anti-bullying plan is in place to keep your parents safe and comfortable. The discussion is valuable. Regardless of what they may say, all facilities have a potential for bullying.  

Senior or Elder bullying is becoming a problem in the aging population. You may think your loved one is safe from such things, but it is being shown that bullying is becoming a problem in Senior Social and Living Communities.

Elder Bullying and Elder Abuse are similar but are not the same thing. While Elder Abuse comes from someone in a position of power over the senior, Elder Bullying can come from senior peers as well, just as the children who are bullied at school.

Senior living facilities do an excellent job of taking care of our loved ones, but occasionally the personalities of the various people who live in the facilities and their interaction with other residents can be overlooked unless an obvious incident occurs. Just like the children who suffer in silence, many elders do as well.

Bullying occurs for much the same reasons and in much the same ways. Popularity, jealousy, being different, seclusion, and anger. Not being included in activities and socializing can be just as devastating for an eighty-year-old as an eight-year-old.

Bullying is characterized by a repetitive aggression or a one-time aggression that is either verbal, anti-social or physical


in nature. These behaviors include:

•  Verbal: name calling, teasing, insults, taunts, threats, sarcasm, or pointed jokes targeting specific individuals

•  Physical: pushing, hitting, destroying property, or stealing

•  Anti-social: shunning/excluding, gossiping, spreading rumors, and using negative non-verbal body language such as mimicking, offensive gestures

Seniors often consider any behavior that is frightening or disturbing to be “bullying”.   

It is noted by the US Department of Health and Human Services that in any senior community up to 25% of the elders have been bullied at some point. This happens at the not only Assisted Living communities, but adult daycare centers, senior housing, retirement communities and senior centers. Senior environments with higher functioning residents or participants tend to have more problems with bullying.


Dr Dani Vandiviere is a conflict and bullying specialist and CEO of Summit Conflict Resolutions and Trainings. She is the President of the Bluegrass Continuity of Care Association, a founding member of KY Association of Senior Services, a member Association for Gerontology, and an Elder Care Conflict Trainer and Mediator. She also offers training programs for the workers in the Eldercare industry, medical professional, elder’s families, organizations and businesses.

more articles by DR. dani vandiviere