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Self-Neglect — When Seniors Ignore the Care They Need

Senior care is a complex issue. When discussing lawsuits related to nursing home neglect, elder financial exploitation, or other matters, it is easy to over-simplify the larger problem. Obviously, all community members deserve reasonable care that is free of mistreatment and allows them the best chance to thrive in their golden years. But it is an error to assume that anyone has a magic formula that will automatically ensure that the widespread problem disappears overnight.

Elder care includes a combination of family support, aid from professional caregivers, long-term care providers, health insurance companies, public policy-makers, and more. There are many different pieces to the puzzle, and those working on the problem appreciate that much work needs to be done in each sphere.

Recently, an Examiner story took a look at one piece which is almost always forgotten: when seniors neglect themselves.

That turn of phrase is a bit more provocative than it needs to be, because it actually refers to a concern of which elder care advocates are well aware. As the story explains, self-neglect usually refers to the situation when “adults are losing the capability of their day to day needs” and do nothing about it. In other words, many seniors need help with basic tasks–cooking, eating, dressing, using the facilities, taking medication, and more–but fail to do anything to receive support. This is referred to as self-neglect because the harm is not necessarily caused by a third-party not providing support they had a duty to provide.

The article refers to one recent study released by a state department for aging and rehabilitative services highlighting the extent of this self-neglect. The authors are quick to point out, however, that it is important not to use this definition as an excuse for massive cases of elder neglect that occur nationwide. On many occasions, those who do breach their duty of care may try to pass off liability by using some version of the “self-neglect” claim.

That is not the point of the study. Instead, one hopes that advocates use this idea as a reminder of the need to be vigilant about the care needed by friends and loved ones–even when they do not specifically ask for support.

There are many reasons for the self-neglect. For example, cognitive decline caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s is an obvious problem that can lead a senior to fail to appreciate the help they need with daily tasks. Similarly, depression is far more common among seniors than most realize. When in the depths of despair, self-care is often ignored. In fact, the story points out that elderly males are far more likely to commit suicide than any other demographic group.

The bottom line: We must be proactive in efforts to ensure proper care and support for our elderly friends and neighbors. We need to hold those who fail to provide proper care accountable. But it is also critical to check on those who are not yet receiving help but may need it. Self-neglect only ends when concerned individuals stand up and make a difference.

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