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Elder Neglect and Self-Neglect

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Neglect of elders can be the result of other people or the elders themselves. Self-neglect is actually the most common type of neglect, and a very common type of elder abuse. It has been estimated that of the cases reported to state Adult Protective Services, approximately fifty percent of the abuse reportings and two-thirds of the neglect reportings turn out to be self-neglect.

Self-neglect is normally more prevalent in cases where elders are housed in private residences rather than in long-term care facilities.

SIGNS OF SELF-NEGLECT

What are signs of self-neglect? How does one recognize it? Self-neglect by elders is the lack of caring for oneself such to cause a risk to the health, safety, or well-being of oneself or others.

Noticeable evidence of self-neglect would be a persons lack of normal or proper self-care. Examples would be one or more of the following:

  • Inadequate intake of food or water
  • Inadequate bathing or other personal hygiene
  • Not wearing appropriate clothing for the weather
  • Not taking necessary medication as prescribed
  • Not seeking medical treatment when needed
  • Not keeping the household clean and safe
  • Leaving a burning stove unattended
  • Being chronically in a state of confusion
  • Hoarding things

CAUSES OF SELF-NEGLECT

Causes of self-neglect can be categorized as physical, mental, and financial.

Physical causes of self-neglect are those factors which physically prevent elders from properly caring for themselves. Such factors include among others, the following:

  • They live alone
  • They are isolated
  • They are unable to drive
  • They have limited physical abilities

Mental causes for self-neglect are many. Generally, they deal in some way with the persons diminished mental ability to take proper self-care. Often they are things that can lead to or cause dementia, a mental deterioration with emotional apathy. Examples include:

  • Alzheimers and other such diseases
  • Illnesses causing low-grade infection and hormone imbalances
  • Chronic depression
  • Overmedication
  • Alcohol or other substance abuse

Financial causes of self-neglect occur when elders have insufficient income or other financial resources to pay for the food, medication, medical treatment, clothing or shelter that would be necessary for proper care. Frequently it happens that elders with insufficient finances, must make a choice between food or medication, between going hungry or going without medical care.

VOLUNTARY VERSUS INVOLUNTARY

After determining that neglect is self-perpetuated, the next big question to answer is whether or not it is voluntary. Putting it another way, is the elder person capable of understanding what he or she is doing or not doing, and the consequences of such behavior? The answer to this question will determine how the family members or concerned others act toward the elder.

So long as they are not hurting or endangering others, people have the right to live as they choose, including the right to live in odd ways, or to refuse to take medication or treatment that others would deem necessary. If it appears that the elder is behaving consciously and making knowledgeable decisions, then any help or intervention on the part of family members would have to be offered voluntarily and be consensual with the elder. Some suggested ways to help the elder adopt a more healthy course of behavior are as follows:

  • Help the elder come to decisions himself or herself about possible solutions.
  • Ask the elder if you may be of help in some way or another.
  • Keep in frequent contact with the elder.
  • Try to reduce the elders isolation.
  • Try to enlist the aid of friends, family members, or members of clubs or religious organizations to make visits, phone calls, and help with driving.

If it is determined that the elders self-abuse is in fact involuntary and beyond the elders control, then it is very possible that qualified legal assistance will be required in order to obtain necessary protection. Call (800) 215-1190 for additional information, or to arrange a consultation with an attorney who specializes in this area of law.

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