What is self-neglect?  Self-neglect, in the context of elder abuse, is when the older person fails to meet their own physical, psychological, and/or social needs.

Self-neglect is one of the forms of elder abuse is, so say the least, tricky. This is because if the individual is mentally competent and chooses not to take care of one’s self, it is hard to label it as elder abuse.

Studies have shown that self-neglect represents the highest percentage of cases of elder abuse. The Public Policy Institute of AARP estimates that self-neglect represents 40 to 50 percent of cases reported to Adult Protective Services agency in most states.

There are possible factors that lead to self-neglect:

Long-term habitual self-neglect – Many of those older persons had a history of self-neglect pretty much throughout their adult lives. Many may have mental health issues that were never addressed. This, as a result, may have spiraled into not eating, substance abuse and becoming introverted.

Poverty – Many older adults are living with limited financial resources. Many cannot afford to buy food or their prescription medications.

Depression – Many older adults become depressed about their condition in life, longing for their youth, being abandoned and suffering from loneliness.

Substance Abuse – Some older adults develop substance abuse problems in old age possibly in response to depression, stress, loss, or anxiety. They may also develop a substance abuse problem as a result of over-prescription of medications. This can result in self-neglect.

Illness – Untreated illnesses can contribute to an older adult’s ability to care for one’s self.

In order to help those who are experiencing self-neglect, one must proceed cautiously with a high degree of respect for the elder and their decisions. Many older adults are not trusting so earning their trust is important in order to facilitate an intervention.

As I always mention, please report all incidents to the proper authorities. You can also find information on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website at

Please feel free to leave your questions or comments.


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