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Bullying and Older Adults

Kathleen D. Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS

July 1, 2023

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Question

 

How is bullying defined, what are the different types of bullies, and what are the typical traits of a bully in an older adult? 

Answer

Definition

The textbook definition comes to us from our federal government, and interestingly enough, it is the same definition that we use for our adolescents. Three core elements define it. First, there is unwanted aggressive behavior. Second, there is an observed or perceived power imbalance or a power differential. And then there's a repetition of behaviors or a high likelihood of repetition. 

Types of Bullies

Generally speaking, there are five types of bullies. Those include the: Narcissistic bully, Impulsive bully, physical bully, verbal bully, and the secondary bully. 

Narcissistic bullies are self-centered and have a need for power and control. They don't share empathy with others. But, the thing that really defines this type of bully is that they plan their bullying; they think it through (who is it going to be, when, how can I do it without getting caught). 

The next person we do see quite a bit is the impulsive bully. This person is spontaneous, and they don't plan. So even if there might be consequences related to their behavior, they have a hard time restraining bullying behaviors. They see an opportunity, take it, and do their bullying.

Physical bully is pushing, pinching, biting, punching, and hair pulling, for example.

Verbal includes name-calling, teasing, insults, taunts, threats, and sarcasm. Maybe it's pointed jokes at a specific individual, their disability, how they walk, and how they speak. For example,  "Ah, you don't even know what you're talking about; everybody knows you're crazy." 

Lastly, there's the secondary bully. The secondary bully doesn't initiate the bullying behavior, but they join in so they don't become a target down the road. It becomes this survival of the fittest. They may feel bad about what they're doing, but they're more concerned about protecting themselves and becoming part of the clique so that they are not bullied down the road.  

Typical Traits of Individuals Who Bully

Bullies are more likely to use power and control strategies at the expense of others

Typical traits of individuals who bully include the following:

  • Lacks empathy
  • Has few friends
  • “Needs” power and control
  • Struggles with individual differences
  • Uses power and control at the expense of others
  • Suffers from low self-esteem
  • Empowered by causing conflict or making others feel threatened, fearful, and hurt 

The biggest thing is that they have this underlying need for power and control, and what they do achieves that aim, achieves that goal. If you think about it, everybody wants to be in charge of their situation. We want to be in control of our situation, but most of our seniors would accomplish that in ways that don't negatively impact other people.

In contrast, a bully uses that power and uses control strategies at the expense of others. They find it positively reinforcing, if you will, to make other individuals feel threatened, fearful, and hurt.  They are empowered by contributing to the conflict between people. Those tendencies are further complicated because they have difficulty tolerating individual differences (not just race, gender or identity) The differences could be hair color, dressing, or walking differently.  They have few friends, and they lack empathy.

For more information on bullying in older adults and interventions, please check out our course titled: Bullying Among Older Adults: Not Just a Playground Problem by Kathleen D. Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS


kathleen d weissberg

Kathleen D. Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS

In her 30+ years of practice, Dr. Kathleen Weissberg has worked in rehabilitation and long-term care as an executive, researcher, and educator.  She has established numerous programs in nursing facilities; authored peer-reviewed publications on topics such as low vision, dementia quality care, and wellness; and has spoken at national and international conferences. She provides continuing education support to over 40,000 individuals nationwide as National Director of Education for Select Rehabilitation. She is a Certified Dementia Care Practitioner, a Certified Montessori Dementia Care Practitioner, and a Certified Fall Prevention Specialist.  She serves as the Region 1 Director for the American Occupational Therapy Association Political Action Committee and adjunct professor at Gannon University in Erie, PA. 


Related Courses

Supporting the LGBTQ Senior in Healthcare
Presented by Kathleen D. Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS
Recorded Webinar

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Course: #4692Level: Introductory1 Hour
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In this session, participants learn the definition and incidence of bullying in adult living communities and day centers, including what older adult bullying looks like in this population. Characteristics of older adult bullies, as well as their targets and gender differences, are explored. The reasons why bullying occurs, as well as the five different types of bullies, are defined. Interventions for the organization, the bully, and the target are reviewed to help communities minimize (and prevent, where possible) bullying and mitigate the effects on the target. Addressing bullying behavior among older adults is critically important for enhancing the quality of life and promoting emotional well-being; strategies to create caring and empathic communities for all residents and staff members are reviewed.

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Course: #3704Level: Intermediate2 Hours
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This session will review evidence-based screening and intervention strategies applicable to a balance and falls management program including research-based exercise programs, environmental modification, patient and caregiver education and balance retraining activities. Falls management program rationale and implementation is also discussed as well as interdisciplinary techniques and strategies to reduce fall risk in the elderly. This course is directly related to the practice of physical therapy and is therefore appropriate for the PT/PTA.

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This session will review practical and cost-effective strategies care providers can implement to impact these areas. Following the framework of person-centered care, providers will hear about meaningful and purposeful activity, sensory, technology, and wellness strategies they can implement to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of isolation. This course is directly related to the practice of physical therapy and is therefore appropriate for the PT/PTA.

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