When we see or hear the term “elder abuse,” many of us instantly think about a professional scammer getting access to an elderly person’s finances or a shameless and amoral family member exploiting a senior loved one for personal and financial gain. But when you pull on a hidden thread in the fabric of elder abuse, you’ll find there is a subcategory known as “elder self-neglect.” Senior care experts are seeing this type of self-abuse become a rising trend among older adults, particularly those seniors aging at home.
What is Elder Self-Neglect?
“Elder self-neglect” is defined as “refusal or failure to provide oneself with care and protection in areas of food, water, clothing, hygiene, medication, living environments, and safety precautions,” according to an article published by the National Institutes of Health. It is a type of self-inflicted abuse when an older person is unwilling or unable to perform essential self-care, such as conducting personal hygiene, taking prescribed medication, having meals, or staying sheltered.
Self-neglect leads to poor physical and mental health. In addition, the risk of premature death rockets to 15 times higher for older adults who self-neglect, according to the Institute for Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University. Given that seniors are more likely to suffer from a chronic illness, dementia or depression, they are more at risk of self-neglect. State-level data suggests the problem has been growing in recent years due to an increasing number of seniors who live alone or without nearby family members. Census data points to about 25% of seniors ages 65 and older, or 14.3 million, were living alone in 2017, up 31% from 10.9 million in 2007. A 2019 Pew Research Center study reported that older adults spend over half their waking hours alone.
“A lot of people end up getting very isolated in their homes,” says Lori Delagrammatikas, executive director of the National Adult Protective Services Association. “That can cause a downward spiral.” Research scientists like Farida Kassim Ejaz of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, are concerned that the increase in elder self-neglect cases is due to the pandemic triggering periods of isolation for older adults. Data is difficult to come by, she told PBS’ Next Avenue, as family members and friends aren’t visiting frequently enough to realize their senior loved one is self-neglecting.
Signs of Elder Self-Neglect
Many times, seniors will not readily admit that they need help, and when confronted, they may try to assure you that everything is fine. That’s why it’s important that family members stay vigilant and watch for red flags. The following is a list of warning signs that a senior needs assistance:
- Spoiled food that doesn’t get thrown away
- Missing important appointments
- Unexplained bruising
- Trouble getting up from a seated position
- Difficulty with walking, balance and mobility
- Uncertainty and confusion when performing once-familiar tasks
- Unpleasant body odor
- Infrequent showering and bathing
- Strong smell of urine in the house
- Noticeable decline in grooming habits and personal care
- Dirty house, extreme clutter and dirty laundry piling up
- Stacks of unopened mail or an overflowing mailbox
- Late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from bill collectors
- Poor diet or weight loss
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
- Forgetting to take medications – or taking more than the prescribed dosage
- Diagnosis of dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s
- Unexplained dents and scratches on a car
What to Do If You Suspect Elder Self-Neglect
If your elderly loved one is exhibiting any of the signs above, it may be time to consider care options. However, seniors often see needing assistance with ADLs as a loss of independence and may start to view themselves as a burden. That’s why it’s important to recognize the early warning signs and prepare the senior to transition to care. Without a plan, the need for care in an emergency situation can create unnecessary emotional and financial stress for seniors and their families.
Transitioning to care is often an emotional process for seniors – one that can leave them feeling afraid, vulnerable, and angry. Families should focus first on determining what type of care is best for their loved one, whether that be an in-home caregiver or an assisted living facility, or even a 24/7 home care safety system like Amada Connect. Ask your loved one what their preference for care options would be and try to be understanding of their point of view. If they continue to be resistant to help, enlist the help of other family members and friends who can express concerns about their wellbeing.
While many seniors see needing assistance as a loss of their independence, finding quality care can actually prolong their independence and help them live a safer, healthier, and happier life. An adviser from Amada Senior Care will help seniors and their families find the best care options available for every situation and will work to make the transition to care an easier and more pleasant experience. Click HERE to find an Amada location nearest you or call 866-752-1961 toll-free.
“How to Spot the Signs of Elder Self-Neglect” written by Taylor French and updated by Michelle Flores, Amada blog contributors.