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Imagine walking into an older adult’s home and being met by an unidentifiable pungent odor. A previously clean and tidy home now has a cluttered look, with dirty dishes and items scattered throughout the house. Even worse is the appearance of your loved ones; their hair is messy, maybe even dirty. Their clothes have stains, and they appear to have lost weight.
While this is alarming, it is a typical picture of self-neglect. According to the United States Department of Human Services, elder self neglect is characterized as the behavior of an elderly person that threatens his/her health or safety. An AARP study found that 40-50% of the cases reported to the Adult Protective Services involved self-neglect.
Signs of Elder Self Neglect
- Physical appearance – Unusual body odors, unkempt or dirty hair, and stains on clothing. A general dirty appearance.
- Inadequate food is seen as a recent loss of weight or loose-fitting clothing.
- Sleep deprivation or an odd sleep schedule – Often, a person will sleep too much or too little. Their schedules can become mixed up; they can be up throughout the night and sleeping during the daytime.
- Lack of interest or concern about life – This can signify depression or another mental health need.
- Increased confusion or changes in cognition – often seen with the onset of Dementia, but can be due to illness.
- Increased Isolation –They no longer go to regular activities and tend to be alone.
- Frequent falls -This can be unexplained bruises to their limbs or even broken bones.
- Drug or Alcohol Abuse
- Lack of medical needs – eyeglasses, dentures, medication, or unattended injuries.
Things to look at in the Seniors Home
- Unusual or unidentifiable odors can be pet or human feces or spoiled items.
- Piles of items, hoarding, or general messiness.
- Bug Infestation – A pet with fleas or even lice on the senior adult.
- Lack of basic needs such as plumbing, electricity, ventilation – keeping windows shut in hot weather, leaky plumbing, or lack of heat can cause an increased risk of health issues.
- Unpaid bills – resulting in utilities being shut off.
Elder Self Neglect can come in many forms; a person may exhibit only a few signs; it can still be detrimental to their health. The changes can come slowly or quickly. Studies have shown that seniors with limited or non-existent social networks are more prone to self-neglect. The sudden changes are often why a long-distance relative may be stunned when they visit and see their loved one.
How to Prevent Self-Neglect
The most important way to prevent self-neglect is to stay in touch with others; this has become increasingly difficult in our recent pandemic world, though not impossible. Try to connect with senior centers, local churches, or neighborhood events. Other tips are to know your neighbors – they are often the first to notice something is wrong. Make sure you schedule and go to regular medical and dental appointments. Also, make sure a friend or family member is aware of your health needs.
What to do if You Suspect Someone is Self-Neglecting
Social support by family, friends, neighbors, and even service professionals are critical in keeping our vulnerable elder population safe. A person can do simple things like checking up on the elderly person or making a phone call and listening. Sometimes that is all the person needs, often though it is more serious.
Other ways to assist are connecting the adult with meals on wheels, senior neighbors, or getting volunteers to visit the elderly. There are also programs to help with financial assistance and home utility bills. Help the person connect with whatever services they may need. Your local county Areas Agency on Aging will have lists of resources available in your community. These resources can be challenging to sort through, and they can be very time-consuming.
Sometimes a person needs more than we can provide. In this situation, we can contact Adult Protective Services (APS). Sometimes this is a lengthy process, and the person is helped only if deemed necessary. In the worst-case scenario, if there is an imminent threat to health, we need to call 911.
Dealing with elderly self neglect is very difficult. We have talked about the problem and its prevalence in the United States. You can help by identifying, preventing, and doing something if you suspect self-neglect. As a first step in helping your loved ones, call senior advisors for free assistance in helping your elderly loved one find a senior community. You are not alone.