How We Can Stop Older Americans From Being “Bullied”

Written By: Ingrid Donato, Mental Health Promotion Branch Chief, Center for Mental Health Services. Crosspost from SAMHSA Blog.

Bullying-like aggression can happen to people of all ages – including older Americans. One has to look no further than the situation of Karen Klein, the 68-year-old monitor of Bus 784 in Greece, NY who was tormented by adolescents in a school bus.

Although bullying is typically defined as occurring among youth, what happened on this bus shows that this type of aggression can happen to anyone.  For older adults these problems can occur in many settings, including their homes and long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes or assisted living residencesllying can come at the hands of many people in direct contact with elders, including caregivers, family, or even facility residents.

One of the most painful forms of bullying is isolation.

As hard as it is to spot, and sometimes accept, offenders may include family members and old friends, newly developed “friends” who intentionally prey on older adults, and service providers in positions of trust.

While there is no typical profile of an abuser, the following are some behavioral signs that may indicate problems:

  • Abusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Controlling elder’s actions: whom they see and talk to, where they go
  • Isolating elders from family and friends, which can increase dependence
  • Emotional/ financial dependency on elder; inability to be self‐sufficient
  • Threatening to leave or send elder to a nursing home
  • Appearing to be indifferent to the child or elder; seeming apathetic or hostile
  • Minimizing an elder’s injuries, blaming victim or others for the abuse, neglect, or exploitation
  • Threatening to harm a victim’s pet
  • Calling the elder and or young person names
  • Previous criminal history
  • Longstanding personality traits (bad temper, hypercritical, tendency to blame others for problems)

Taking time to listen and to really “hear” people–of any age—are the first lines of defense against bullying.  Looking for these signs and carefully talking with the older people in your life can be an important first step in determining whether or not there is a problem.  If you know someone who is being bullied or is a victim of aggressive behavior, there are steps you can take to get the bullying to stop – and the information is available at:

If you suspect elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse to find phone numbers for your state, or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.  If someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police.

Through communication and action, older Americans and people of all ages can free themselves of the risks, torment and trauma of events like what happened on Bus 784.

HIV testing saves lives

Did you know that more than 1 million Americans are living with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection, yet approximately 1 in 5 of them don’t know it?

Have you been tested? Medicare covers HIV screening once every 12 months, or up to 3 times during a pregnancy, for people with Medicare of any age who ask for the test, pregnant women, and people at increased risk for the infection (such as gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, or people with multiple sexual partners). You pay nothing for the tests, but you generally have to pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for the doctor visit.

Early testing and diagnosis is key to prevention. At least 1 in 3 people in the U.S. who test positive for HIV is tested too late to get the full advantage of treatment. Early testing cuts the spread of disease, extends life expectancy, and cuts costs of care. Testing is an important first step in bringing people with HIV infection the medical care and support they need to improve their health and help them maintain safer behaviors.

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. Make sure your loved ones have been tested—the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. You can learn more about HIV testing and what you can do to increase testing awareness by visiting the Centers for Disease Control.

Is your vision cloudy?

Do you or a loved one have cataracts?  A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens that affects vision. According to the National Eye Institute, by age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.

Medicare can help. Medicare Part B covers cataract surgery, and after surgery Medicare helps pay for cataract glasses, contact lenses, or intraocular lenses you get from an ophthalmologist.

Cataracts often come with age—they affect the vision of about half of all people between 65 and 74. Your risk for cataracts also may increase through long term exposure to sunlight, if you have diabetes, or if you smoke. New eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses may help your symptoms. If not, you may need surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens.

June is Cataract Awareness Month. Visit the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health to learn more about cataracts.