Think Bullying Is Just For Kids? Older Adults Experience Bullying Too

Elderly person holding hands together

Try to picture “bullying” in your mind. What do you see? Perhaps you envision an older child pounding his fist in his hand demanding lunch money from someone smaller and younger. Maybe you imagine a group of children whispering, laughing and pointing at another child for being different.

An image of an elderly person experiencing physical, emotional or psychological abuse probably does not immediately spring to mind. Many people tend to think that bullying is age-specific and reserved for children, adolescents or teenagers until they grow out of it. But bullying is simply another name for harassment, and anyone can be harrassed.

In this blog post I’ll explore some signs of elder abuse in nursing homes and long-term care facilities and offer tips if you believe a loved one may be experiencing this kind of bullying.

Bullying is harmful for everyone involved, so it’s up to everyone to show it won’t be tolerated. Events like Pink Shirt Day are one way to raise awareness of the issue and demonstrate support for and solidarity with people who have experienced bullying. It began in a Canadian high school when a group of students, who witnessed a boy being teased for wearing a pink shirt to school, decided to encourage others to wear pink to show him that his school community stood behind him.

But since bullying is not just a problem kids face, HSH is proud to be a supporter of the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse’s awareness campaign #PinkShirtDayForAll. By promoting visible anti-bullying messages, we can help bullies everywhere to learn that their behaviour won’t be tolerated and reassure people who have experienced bullying that they are not alone.

What Is Bullying? What Are The Signs?

In nursing homes bullying can occur between or among residents, when a staff member harasses a resident, or when a resident harasses a care-giver. The effects of bullying on individuals who have either experienced or witnessed this abuse can be traumatic.

Even if you don’t personally witness the bullying or hear about it explicitly from your loved one, there may be indications that something is wrong. Look for unexplained bruises, changes in mood and behaviour (especially around certain people), missing property, or sudden changes to wills or powers of attorney, among other things, as signs that your loved one may be experiencing abuse or neglect. This is especially the case when an elderly loved one is unable to voice any concerns either because of stroke, dementia, alzheimer’s or other disease.

What Are Your Rights?

The owners and operators of elder care facilities have an additional role to play, however. They are responsible for ensuring they create a safe environment for residents, staff and visitors. Section 3 of the Long-Term Care Homes Act sets out that all residents have the right to be protected from physical, emotional, sexual, verbal or even financial abuse. The Retirement Homes Act includes a Bill of Rights (s. 51) and a written zero tolerance policy against abuse and neglect (s. 67).

These facilities should proactively establish anti-bullying guidelines and policies, promote kindness and inclusion through postering and events, increase education and awareness, and teach de-escalation strategies or provide by-stander intervention workshops to give others the tools to combat harassment when they see it.

If a facility is negligent in providing this kind of environment or fails to act in a timely and appropriate manner when it becomes aware of a bullying problem, your loved one could sue to recover damages for their pain and suffering.

Take Steps To Protect Your Loved Ones

You can install a “nanny cam” in your loved one’s room to deter abuse or capture evidence of it. You do not need a facility’s permission to record video in a loved one’s room, but you do need the consent of at least one person to capture audio.

An ounce of prevention is also worth a pound of cure. I’ve previously written about some things to consider when choosing a nursing home for a loved one, including the appropriateness of the home and whether there are any outstanding complaints against the facility. Once your loved one is a resident of a facility, you should also be familiar with their plan of care and consider doing physical “check-ins” when possible.

If your loved one has been subjected to neglect or abuse, including bullying while in long-term care, Howie, Sacks and Henry’s personal injury and nursing home negligence lawyers can help. Contact personal injury lawyer Melissa Miller to learn more about what options are available to you as you seek justice and restitution. You can reach Melissa directly at 416-847-1063 or by email at

Melissa Miller is a partner at Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP. She has devoted her practice to advocating for the most vulnerable members of our population, the elderly. Certified in Elder Law, she concentrates on nursing home negligence, long-term care cases and elder abuse in addition to all areas of personal injury litigation, including product liability, hospital negligence, car accidents, slip and falls and long-term disability claims.

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