Bullying between residents in nursing homes: Be part of the solution, not the problem

The Bottom Line

  • Bullying among residents of nursing homes is a growing problem in Canada.
  • Bullying occurs mostly in the form of verbal behaviour, harassment, social exclusion or manipulation.
  • Bullying has serious consequences for the mental and physical health of residents: anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem and deterioration of emotional well-being. Additionally, the stress of bullying can also contribute to physical health issues like high blood pressure and sleep disturbance.

Nursing homes and retirement homes are supposed to be safe and caring places for seniors. However, a phenomenon is hiding behind the doors of these establishments: bullying between residents. As society pays increasing attention to addressing bullying in schools and workplaces, bullying among seniors remains a taboo and neglected issue.

Did you know that approximately 1 in 5 seniors are bullied in nursing homes and retirement homes?(1) Most bullying among seniors is not "physical" in nature, but rather involve insults, gossip and exclusion.

Have you experience bullying in your residence?

What is bullying?

The National Center for Assisted Living in the United States has produced a guide regarding the phenomenon of bullying among seniors in nursing homes.(2)

In this guide, bullying is defined as any behaviour, word or act that is hostile, abusive or harmful towards a person or a group of people, which is often repeated. These behaviours can take various forms, ranging from emotional manipulation to physical and verbal violence: pushing, hitting, harassment, criticism, isolation, rumours, threatening emails, insults, etc. Sometimes bullies steal or intentionally break things belonging to the people they want to bully. There is often an underlying issue of power and control.

Why do some seniors become bullies?

Seniors who are bullying share common characteristics: lack of empathy, difficulty accepting cultural, religious, sexual differences. Women mainly intimidate indirectly and spread rumours, form cliques, have passive-aggressive behaviours, are manipulative. Bullying men are more direct in their verbal and physical aggression behaviours, and often suffer from a superiority complex.

Several factors contribute to bullying among seniors:

- a competition for resources (getting greater staff attention, having larger bedroom, having a better seat during recreational activities)

- an institutional environment that exacerbates feelings of helplessness and frustration, resulting in intimidating behaviour towards other residents

- mental health problems, such as dementia or depression, which cause aggressive behaviour.

Who is likely to be bullied?

Victims of bullying may experience considerable emotional distress, loss of self-esteem and increased anxiety. These negative effects on mental health can lead to social isolation, deterioration of physical health and a decrease in overall quality of life.

People who are bullied are most often new residents, vulnerable, passive, dependent people, people with mental illness or depression, or single people (without a partner) with little or no support network.

How to create an environment free from intimidation?

To combat bullying, it is essential to raise awareness among residents, staff and families about this phenomenon and to promote an environment that is respectful of cultural, religious and sexual differences, for example.

Prevention begins with establishing clear rules, expectations and consequences related to bullying, shared by future residents, current residents and staff.

Then, it is crucial to train staff on conflict management, non-violent communication and understanding the individual needs of residents.

At the same time, we must promote kindness and benevolence towards others and set up social and recreational activities that promote positive interactions between seniors, thus reducing the risk of bullying.

Staff and residents should also be encouraged to report incidents of bullying and take complaints seriously.

Are you experiencing bullying?

If you are a witness or a victim of bullying, it is necessary to tack action to resolve the situation. You can :

- speak to a staff member or the manager of the nursing home

- talk to other trusted residents

- ask for help from family and friends

- report theft, abuse, physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse to the police, as these are criminal acts

- seek help from outside organizations specializing in protecting the rights of seniors and responding to bullying.

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Author Details


  1. Sedensky M. Bullying has no age limit, nursing homes find. CTV News, 2018.
  2. National Center for Assisted Living. Bullying among seniors: A prevention and surveillance guide. Washington, DC: United States, 2023.

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