Self-neglect: The Latest Elder Epidemic

Though much of the conversation around elder abuse is centered on nursing home malpractice, the leading issue many elders are currently facing is self-neglect. Self-neglect is defined by the National Adult Protective Services Association as, “an adult’s inability, due to physical or mental impairment or diminished capacity, to perform essential self-care…”, and is something that happens far too often within the older population worldwide. With many different factors to appreciate, it’s hard to always know exactly what to look for when trying to detect the symptoms of this epidemic.  

Who is most likely to experience self-neglect?

When having the conversation about self-neglect, it’s important to be aware of what some of the most vulnerable groups are. Though there has yet to be a study of adequate sample size and population diversity, researchers are already starting to see early trends of which demographics are more likely to have this problem.

Elders with any sort of physical disability, cognitive impairment, or psychological distress seem to display an increased risk of self-neglect.

There have also been arguments made that economic resources and education level can play a role in the likelihood of this behavior occurring. A study based in South Korea found that older adults with a lack of family support or a smaller social network than average where also at an increased risk for self-neglect. However, due to inconsistencies observed in these trends, some researchers are arguing that anyone, regardless of socioeconomic standing or mental and physical capacity, can fall victim to self-neglect.

How to identify self-neglect

One of the hardest parts about intervening in cases of self-neglect is determining whether a person is displaying any of the warning signs, especially if they happen to be reclusive.  Researchers and case workers alike have found that theses are some of the most common warning signs of this destructive behavior:

  • Hoarding;
  • Indicators of deteriorating personal hygiene;
  • Inability or refusal to take medications in the appropriate way;
  • Unpaid bills, utility shut-offs, and lack of awareness of financial state; and
  • Improper food supply and indications of extreme weight loss.

Though just a few of the many ways that elder self-neglect can occur, these prevalent issues also happen to be some of the hardest ones to detect, as doctors can only see how a patient presents themselves at an appointment, and not how they behave at home.

What can be done?

Currently, 43 states mandate the reporting of any form of elder abuse, which may or may not include self-neglect. Also, most professionals working with elders in the United States are mandatory reporters and should reach out to Adult Protective Services whenever they feel that any type of abuse is occurring, including self-inflicted abuse. Once reported, the APS then decides if they would like to conduct an in-home investigation of the reported self-neglect case.

Christopher C. Walton, an experienced and award-winning elder abuse attorney in San Diego. Walton Law, APC focuses its practice on nursing home abuse & neglect. If you believe you or somebody you know has been subjected to abuse or neglect while residing in a Southern California nursing home, contact Chris at (866) 338-7079 for a free and confidential consultation.