Most people agree that abuse of elderly people is a serious problem, especially those who have experienced it or have family members who have fallen victim to it in a nursing home. However, it is not entirely clear how big a problem it is.

The Lancet attempted to make that determination by conducting a review of scientific literature describing elder abuse to find out how prevalent it is. Overall, the review showed that approximately 15.7% of elderly people become victims of abuse. However, the results also showed that certain types of elder abuse are more prevalent than others.

Psychological/emotional abuse

The most common type of elder abuse was not physical but psychological in nature, affecting 11.6% of the elderly population. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, psychological/emotional abuse causes distress or mental anguish to an elderly person. It can involve belittlement, rejection or isolation, threats of violence or verbal attacks with violent language.

A person who experiences emotional/psychological abuse may display behavioral changes and symptoms such as depression, anxiety or fear. These may be more evident when the abuser is near.

Physical abuse

The prevalence of physical abuse of the elderly ranged from 1.6% to 4.4%. Signs of physical abuse can be easier to recognize than emotional/psychological abuse. There may be unexplained injuries on the victim’s body, such as bruises, burns, cuts or sores, as well as more serious injuries such as broken bones.

Neglect

Some people include neglect as a form of physical abuse, but The Lancet considered each separately. The prevalence of neglect of the elderly was 4.2%. Neglect in a nursing home can be either intentional or unintentional. It is intentional when staff willfully refuse to take care of the individual’s physical needs, while unintentional abuse is a failure to do so without the intent to cause harm. Signs of neglect in a nursing home include dehydration or poor nutrition, dirtiness and untreated bedsores.