Bullying knows no age news mycouriertribune.com gas 2016

Bullying. For many, the word conjures thoughts or memories of an older schoolmate pushing them down and calling them names on the playground or in school halls. For an increasing number, the word means intimidation by a caregiver or group of peers in an assisted living facility.

Statistics from Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services in 2011 show reports of people age 60 and older being abused increased 23.8 percent between 2007 and 2011 with a total of 17,571 reports made in 2011. The department said an increased number of baby boomers reaching retirement age, economic stressors from the recent recession, and increased awareness of elderly abuse issues and how to report them are factors in the increase.

“Several times per year there are incidents investigated by Missouri Health and Senior Services. Reports are made through (the statewide toll-free) hotline,” Michelle Brown, manager of health, advocacy and supportive services for Mid-America Regional Council, the area’s center for aging, said. “It’s still such an under-discussed area where it’s not talked about a lot and people don’t think it could happen to them.”

“Most bullying among seniors is a form of social aggression. That can be gossip, rumor spreading, undermining relationships and territorial behaviors like turning public space into private-use or controlled spaces,” Deborah Babbitt, licensed master social worker and bullying expert at Northland Shepherd’s Center, said.

“I’ve seen many issues at different places over the years. We had one instance where it had become such a problem a group facilitator didn’t know what to do. Bullies are intimidating, and we are taught to be respectful of our elders, so it’s harder to address bad behavior in older adults. Adult-on-adult bullying is just as impactful as children bullying other children.”

“There are residential facilities where seniors are living independently but in a communal space with similarly aged adults. That can be independent or apartment living. Then, there is assisted living, where a person may need help doing daily things or getting around, and there is nursing and long-term care facilities, where people are given more help with personal care like hygiene and other functions of life,” Babbitt said.

“Abuse in care facilities is not as common as it used to be because there are so many watchdogs and reporting procedures in place now,” said Steve McDonald of Westbrook Care Center in Kearney, adding that seniors living alone are underrepresented in reports of bullying or abuse.

“Not since college have many of these individuals lived in that communal living situation. With that, you have people moving into smaller spaces giving up property, autonomy and control. As people age and experience losses — whether tangible or otherwise — they lose independence and control over self which can spur bullying behavior in some people,” she said.

“Elder-on-elder buying, not unlike child-on-child, occurs from a dynamic of behavior. There is the bully, the target and the witnesses. The bully is someone who does something to exert control over a target. It can be obvious, like a threat, or obscure, like undermining a relationship. An example of that is a someone who sees you engaging with another and then says something like, ‘Wow, she really gave you a funny look. What’s that about?’” Babbitt said.

“They drop out of groups, have increased instances of depression or anxiety. They tend to make comments excusing themselves from activities with others. They often don’t feel empowered to or are reluctant to tell others about the bullying behavior,” she said.

“Witnesses are also impacted. They can experience vicarious trauma or guilt. They either contribute by being a silent audience — oftentimes that fuels the bully because they feed off that attention — or by not acting. By not acting, you are supporting the bully,” she said. “Witnesses often don’t act out of fear. They think, ‘I don’t want to be the next target,’ so it’s a protective measure.”

The National Center on Elder Abuse, under the federal Administration on Aging’s website, lists physical abuse warning signs: bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, burns, unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, strained or tense relationships, bedsores, unexplained medical needs and poor hygiene.

State findings show reports of abuse of the elderly and adults with disabilities rose between 2007 and 2011. In 2011, state investigations show 10 percent of home- and community-based incidents were those with adults in imminent danger, indicating a high risk of injury or were life-threatening, and 78 percent of were people were involved in situations that may result in harm being done to the adult but were not life-threatening.

“The vast majority of abusers were family members (approximately 90 percent), most often adult children, spouses, partners and others,” a 1998 National Center on Elder Abuse study called “The national elder abuse incidence study: Final report” states.

“There is one where someone calls the senior and poses as the person’s grandchild. They will say, ‘Don’t call my parents, but I am in trouble,’ and they are in jail so they need $4,500 wired to them. They give a number for the (police department) where they are and it’s a false number,” he said. “We had three people fall for that and got several calls about others attempting it. One who fell for it was a friend of mine.”

“They will get a check for, say, $4,000 and it says they just need to send $300 of it back and they can keep the rest. Most of those scams come from out of the country. Usually, the person who gets the check wires the money and then goes and spends their large check, and then they get a call from the bank saying it was a fake check and they are out that money”

“We had one where a guy was going around telling people they needed termite control. They would get into the people’s homes and spray some cheap chemicals around and then charge the people hundreds or thousands for it,” he said. “You also have one where someone comes to the door saying they are selling vacuums or whatever door-to-door and asks if they can come in and use the bathroom, and then after they leave, people find they have jewelry and medicine or a checkbook missing.”

“When witnesses see bullying behavior, they need to say something” she said. “The majority needs to stand up for the minority and address bullying when it happens. … When others stand up and say, ‘This isn’t right. What you are doing is bullying and it won’t be tolerated,’ it takes away the power of the bully. Through the group, bullying can be reduced.”

The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging website, www.americanbar.org/groups/law_aging/resources.htm, provides seniors and family with legal resources including information on pro bono work, legislative changes and procedures, guardianship, health directives, wills and powers of attorney.

The National Center on Elder Abuse, under the federal Administration on Aging website, www.ncea.aoa.gov, provides people with answers to frequently asked questions on aging and abuse, provides resources for the abused or their relatives, and information about where to get training to prevent or report abuse.

MARC also provides respite care, which allows caregivers a moment of reprieve from caring for relatives; as well as transportation and personal care. The organization also works with Legal Aid of Western Missouri for those pursuing guardianship.

For seniors in assisted, long-term or independent living facilities, contact should be made with site services coordinators, on-site patient advocates or building managers, who are legally obligated to report claims, said Deborah Babbitt, licensed master social worker and bullying expert at Northland Shepherd’s Center.