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Independent Living and Senior Abuse

Apr 30, 2018 by Comfort Keepers of Riverside and Corona

When we think of senior abuse, we may think of a relative stealing money from them, a caregiver abusing them while on the job, or perhaps a health aide stealing medication from them in a nursing home.

Yet, the most frequent call adult protective services agencies receive is not of these forms of abuse, but another one entirely:

A Senior Issue That Is Often Overlooked

Above all else, calls go out to report senior self-neglect.

Self-neglect occurs when someone lives a lifestyle or acts in a way that actually worsens their safety and health. In a recent Chicago study, it was found that as much as 10% of senior men and 8.5% of senior women neglect their own care.

Common Signs of Self-Neglect In the Elderly:

  • Malnutrition
  • Confusion
  • Inappropriate or dirty clothing
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sores on their skin
  • Lice
  • Not taking medications
  • Neglecting pets
  • Neglecting finances
  • Neglecting household duties
  • Hoarding

The tricky question here is a matter of cause and effect. Do seniors become so depressed that they neglect their own care, or does the lack of meeting their needs lead to depression?

Additionally, sometimes it’s impossible to see self-neglect in someone who visits their doctor. All it takes is taking a shower and putting on clean clothes for them to put on the façade that things are okay.

This is why home visits are so important. Seeing the state of their living space and how they normally are in the home will give professionals the best insight into the extensiveness of their self-neglect.

Why Does it Happen?

A very important trait of our society is individual independence. You are held back if someone else has to make decisions for you, and many seniors feel their independence being threatened when it is time for them to receive some form of care.

So, if someone is still able to make decisions for themselves, even just barely, sometimes they can fly under the radar.

Not only this, but it is much more difficult to respond to a situation in which someone is harming themselves instead of someone else harming them.

Sometimes, folks in these situations are seemingly abandoned by their families. Relatives will say that despite their efforts, the senior won’t seek or receive any help, and they blame the senior’s “stubborn personality” or a similar personality trait. Thus, they give up on helping and the self-neglect is not reported.

Why We Need to Address It

You may be thinking, yes it is terrible for someone to live neglecting themselves, but why do we have the right to intervene? If they want to keep their independence and live the way they’re living, what’s so bad about that?

The problem is this self-sabotage is on a downward slope to much, much worse.

For starters, these seniors are automatically at a higher risk for getting sick and dying. They tend to visit the emergency room more and spend more time hospitalized. Additionally, the other forms of senior abuse mentioned earlier are more likely to occur in these individuals, on top of their self-neglect.

A larger problem lies in the fact that many senior agencies are understaffed, not funded adequately, and the staff there is typically overworked. It makes seniors ignoring their own needs one of their last priorities, as they tend to look at the other cases of abuse first.

But, we have to start somewhere, and that begins with reporting. If you acknowledge that you are neglecting your hygiene, nutrition, housework, pets, or whatever else is important for a good quality of life, OR you suspect someone else is neglecting themselves, call your local Adult Protective Services agency to report it.

If you witness or are experiencing anything life-threatening pertaining to self-neglect, call 911 immediately.

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