Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on 9-11. Volunteer today

Introducing RealPad

The tablet with free 24/7 customer support. Learn More





Military and Veterans Discount




Popular Articles


Bedbugs Put the Bite On

Epidemic poses special challenges for older people


Delores Stewart displays bedbugs found in her home in Columbus, Ohio. A resurgence of bedbugs across the United States has homeowners and apartment dwellers taking desperate measures to get rid of the tenacious insects. — Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Lela Gause, 64, and her boyfriend, James Anthony, 64, sleep on a pair of mattresses in the center of their studio apartment, located in a building run by the Trenton (N.J.) Housing Authority. Several waves of bedbug infestations in the nine-story building have ruined their clothes and furniture, and few people visit the couple for fear of possibly carrying the parasitic insects home with them.

"I can't sleep. I am afraid I'll feel that sting, sting, bite, bite, bite all over again," says Gause. Bedbugs have left welts the size of leopard spots on her body, and there are blood stains on the wall where she has smashed the insects. And she's afraid to purchase more furniture and clothes until she knows the bugs are gone for good.

'Bedbugs can be even more problematic for older people, who may not see or feel them.'

"We've witnessed really bad infestations in older adult communities and literally had [bedbugs] walking on clothes as we sit down and talk to residents," says Jeffrey White, a research entomologist for, an information website based in Lawrenceville, N.J.

A veritable epidemic of bedbugs — the small, brownish, flat insects that feed on human blood — has erupted in the past year. Experts say extermination treatments can run upward of $900 for a two-bedroom apartment. Public awareness is growing with media alerting people to watch out for the bugs in homes, hotels, health care facilities, movie theaters and department stores throughout the country.

"Bedbugs need to be introduced into an environment," White says. "They do not jump or fly but are excellent hitchhikers and can be transported on clothing, luggage, used furniture and various other objects."

Bedbugs can be even more problematic for older people, who may not see or feel them because of diminished eyesight or physical challenges. In one severely infested apartment building in Kentucky, 76 percent of older residents reported no bite reactions, one study revealed. According to Beth Miller, M.D., clinical director of allergy and asthma at the University of Kentucky, older adults are often less responsive to allergens because of some of the medications they take. As a result, these individuals aren't aware of the bedbugs and the problem spreads unchecked.

It's especially important for apartment managers to stay on top of bedbugs. "The affordable housing industry is very much aware of the problem," says Lionel Kier, executive director of BTC Management Corp. in Trenton, N.J. "When an apartment is identified, we not only treat that apartment but those surrounding it — on the sides, above and below — to minimize further spread."

White counsels apartment managers to host meetings with tenants and insist they report a problem at the onset — even a single bug. "A lot of older adults associate bedbugs with meaning they are dirty and poor," White says. "The bugs have no association with filth. If someone tucks the bugs under the carpet the problem gets worse and more expensive to control."

Maureen McDonald is a writer in Detroit.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits HomeServe

Members can protect their homes with comprehensive repair plans from HomeServe.

grocery coupon center member benefit aarp

Members can print savings coupons at the Grocery Coupon Center powered by

Membership Discount Benefit Pet Plan Dog

Members save 10% on Petplan pet insurance premiums when purchasing a policy online.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.


Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points