By Mac Slover
When most people hear or think of bullying, they usually associate it with children. We must recognize that bullying can occur at any age, including senior adults.
According to the National Center of Elder Abuse, approximately one in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. As many as one in five senior adults are victims of verbal or physical abuse – often by other seniors. Estimates range as high as 5 million seniors are abused each year. However, only one in 14 cases are reported to authorities.
Abusers are both women and men and almost 60% of senior abuse and neglect incidents are perpetrated by a family member. Up to two thirds of the perpetrators are adult children or spouses of the bullied senior.
In every community or culture, seniors bring their life stories to wherever they call home. Their experiences and expectations affect how they interact with others living in the community as well. It is critical to provide care in a positive and safe environment aimed at the wellbeing of residents to prevent bullying, while also recognizing and resolving bullying behaviors.
Why are senior adults bullied? Often bullying occurs due to insecurity, when the bully feels powerless in their own life. Bullies feel powerful when intimidating others, and when they can gain control of their own life by asserting control over their surroundings — including other people. Unfortunately, bullying behavior is often rewarded, because bullies get what they want. Success reinforces their behavior.
Seniors, staff and family members should become familiar with characteristics commonly shown among bullies and monitor their behavior. Typical traits of bullies include lack of empathy, few friends or social ties, a need for power and control, struggles with individual differences, low self-esteem and the tendency to make others feel threatened, fearful or hurt.
If you are a victim of bullying or suspect a senior is being bullied, report and document it immediately. Contact family members, friends or city agencies, including the the Deparment of Communication and Human Services’ Aging & Adult Services, Adult Protective Services and law enforcement.
Under former Mayor Bill Euille, Alexandria established the Mayor’s Campaign to End Bullying Committee in 2014. Supported by former Mayor Allison Silberberg, current Mayor Justin Wilson and past and present City Council members, the goal of the campaign is to improve the community and school climate and the quality of life for all residents, even senior adults. It recognizes bullying as a community issue that affects everyone, from youth to senior adults. Tackling this community-wide issue requires everyone to communicate in an open and non-blaming tone, focus on building positive relationships and support and work together.
The writer is chair of the Alexandria mayor’s Campaign to End Bullying Committee and is a former city staffer in the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities.