How to Identify Senior Self Neglect

How to Spot the Signs of Senior Self-Neglect

Seniors Living Alone May Neglect Basic Needs

As people age, certain routine daily tasks become more difficult to carry out. Basic activities like meal preparation, personal hygiene, and cleaning may require much more effort than they used to. For seniors living alone, these tasks may seem impossible to keep up with, especially if depression, medication side effects, or mental deterioration is also present. When an elderly person can no longer provide for his or her own basic necessities like food, water, or sanitation, self-neglect can present serious health concerns. Family members must take an active role in monitoring the condition of their elderly loved ones so that if self-neglect occurs, it can be addressed quickly and appropriately.

What Are the Signs of Self-Neglect?

Self-neglect may start slowly and may not be immediately evident. If your elderly family member is one of the 28% of people over the age of 65 who live alone, you may not notice a change right away. However, there are some tell-tale signs you should look for:

  • Lingering bad odors
  • Dirty clothing
  • Clothing not appropriate for weather conditions
  • Significant weight loss
  • Insufficient food on hand
  • Piles of trash or filth left lying around
  • Failure to care for animals or clean up after them
  • Insufficient medication
  • Pest infestations
  • Sores or rashes
  • Failure to use a needed cane, walker, or wheelchair

These symptoms generally refer to the individual’s person or environment, but you may also notice a change in mental state. If you notice a tendency toward depression, drug dependency, or delusional behavior, you should look for signs of self-neglect as well.

How To Identify Self-Neglect

If your elderly loved ones live alone, you may need to take some intentional steps to identify whether they can still care for themselves sufficiently or not. If you live in the area, stop by at least once a week to check on them and see how they are doing. If you don’t live close by, make it a point to call once or twice a week and ask specific questions about how they are doing, what they had to eat that day, whether they have taken prescribed medication, and what hygiene tasks they have performed that day (bathing, brushing teeth, bathroom trips). Listen carefully for any indications that the individual may be dodging questions, can’t remember basic answers to questions, or seems to brush off concerns about safety and hygiene. If possible, ask a friend in the area to stop by once a week or so to make sure everything is okay. Sometimes a little bit of human contact can be enough to pull seniors out of a downward spiral and keep them interested in caring for themselves and their living environment.

What to Do if You Notice a Problem of Self-Neglect

Respecting your loved one’s wishes in terms of self-management is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship. Rather than forcing changes on an elderly family member, take the time to listen to their concerns, make a sympathetic appeal, and use logical observations to demonstrate a need for change. It may be time to hire an in-home caregiver to provide assistance with basic needs such as getting dressed, preparing meals, performing simple housecleaning tasks, and dispensing medication. A caregiver can also provide that vital human connection that helps seniors remain mentally stimulated, and may even help stave off symptoms of depression.

Caring for an aging loved one requires a gentle approach that allows him or her to maintain independence and dignity as long as possible while also recognizing when it’s time to become more active in providing additional care. When self-neglect begins to present hazards for health and safety, consider hiring a full-time caregiver to offer needed assistance while still allowing your loved one to remain at home.

Photo by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive

Originally posted 2015-02-24 10:00:49.

Joyce Apperson
Joyce Apperson

Joyce Apperson is a Registered Nurse and Geriatric Care Manager with 15 plus years of experience working with advocating for seniors. She is the founder and President of Caring Connection, Inc., which provides in-home care and geriatric care management in Harford County, Baltimore County and Cecil County in Maryland. Joyce currently serves on the Harford County Advisory Board on Aging. In addition to writing articles here for the Caring Connection's blog, Joyce has been a regular contributor on senior care topics to the County Gazette.

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