“Despite having the financial and physical ability to do so, these seniors do not eat nutritious meals, they live in squalor, or they neglect their personal hygiene.”
People do not like to talk about it, but many older Americans suffer from self-neglect. Despite having the financial and physical ability to do so, these seniors do not eat nutritious meals, they live in squalor, or they neglect their personal hygiene. If you know someone who might fit this description, you must know about elder abuse, what causes self-neglect among the elderly and how to help.
Is Self-Neglect a Type of Abuse?
Yes, it can be. Abuse is not always perpetrated by someone else. Alcohol and drug abuse are usually actions taken by the person who suffers the physical consequences. Self-neglect is another form of abuse that is self-inflicted. People who self-neglect also have a higher risk of being the victims of other types of elder abuse.
Why Do Some Seniors Commit Self-Neglect?
Even the experts cannot explain the behavior. They know that depression often accompanies self-neglect, but there is no proven cause-and-effect relationship. Researchers wonder if depression leads to self-neglect, if self-neglect leads to depression, or if there is merely a coincidence and not causation between the two.
What is Self-Neglect?
The essence of self-abuse is voluntarily living in conditions that the average reasonable person would find unacceptable and even harmful. Examples of these conditions include:
- Living with indoor pets and not cleaning up their excrement.
- Failing to bathe or wear clean clothes.
- Not taking necessary medication, even though they have the filled prescriptions in the house.
- Consuming large quantities of alcohol.
- Having piles of rancid food and garbage in the home.
- Failing to eat healthy food, even with the financial resources to do so.
Studies suggest that nearly ten percent of seniors experience self-neglect. Some in the medical field suggest the prevalence is likely higher, because of the many people who refused to allow the researchers to enter their homes.
What Can You Do to Help a Self-Neglecting Loved One?
That depends on where you live. In some states, everyone is a mandated reporter of abuse, while in other states, no one must report. In Alabama, only physicians and other practitioners of the healing arts or any caregiver are mandatory reporters. Regardless of where you live, you can call the adult protective services hotline, (in Alabama 800-243-5463) and they might investigate.
There are limits, however, to the intervention that agencies may perform. This is because people may make decisions that affect themselves. As long as a person has the legal capacity to choose for himself, society cannot force better living conditions on him, regardless of how well-intentioned.
Sometimes, a self-neglecting senior’s condition deteriorates to where she loses legal capacity and has a medical emergency. The state or county rushes in, rescues her, gets her the medical care she needs, cleans up her house and gets her healthy again. Once she is healthy, however, the courts often declare the person to have legal capacity once more. At that point, she goes back home and lives in filth again.
The laws are different in every state, so to discover what you can do to help an aging loved one who might be self-neglecting, consult an elder law attorney in your area. This article discusses the general law.
The New York Times. “Elder Abuse: Sometimes It’s Self-Inflicted.” (accessed March 24, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/02/health/elderly-self-neglect-.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FElderly&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=14&pgtype=collection
National Adult Protective Services Association. “Get Help.” (accessed March 28, 2018) http://www.napsa-now.org/get-help/how-aps-helps/