Preventing and Identifying Self-Neglect in Older Family Members

More families live apart, and there is more isolation because of COVID-19 and other virus concerns. The amount of self-neglect among older adults is increasing at an alarming rate. Awareness of the problem is vital to the quality of life for older loved ones. Being prepared makes it easier for everyone.

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Preventing and Identifying Self-Neglect in Older Family Members
5 Min Read October 17th, 2021 Updated:December 24th, 2022

Many people would not think of self-neglect when they think of elder abuse. Yet, self-neglect is a significant problem with older people worldwide.

Self-neglect in older individuals is a problem that is becoming more common but is poorly understood. Self-neglect is characterized by profound inattention to health and hygiene. Experts say that it affects individuals from all backgrounds. 

Data from the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System shows that self-neglect constituted 51% of all elder abuse in the United States. It is also a growing problem in Canada and other parts of the world.

For example, a study on 1,023 older adults living alone in a metropolitan area in South Korea indicated that 22.8% of the participants had some form of self-neglect.

Ignoring Basic Needs

It is considered neglect when an individual fails to take care of their basic needs. There are several reasons for these, including dementia, depression, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and a general decline in overall health due to aging.

The problem of spotting self-neglect has increased for several reasons. While COVID-19 created more isolation as families often do not see each other as often as they have in the past. However, before COVID-19, families were spread apart as adult children often did not continue to live where they grew up. Families are often separated by distance from their parents and siblings. 

Self-neglect can result from underlying mental or cognitive issues, such as depression or dementia, and from everyday physical problems that people experience as they age.

A parent might 'sound' ok, but without seeing them in person, often the adult children may not know what is happening in their parent's home.

Self-Neglect is Often Unreported

Farida Kassim Ejaz, a senior research scientist at Cleveland-based Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, quoted in a story published in Next Avenue, says the growing isolation makes identifying the scope of the problem more difficult.

"A significant number of these cases go undetected or unreported." 

Another problem that experts note is your parent's standards, and your standards could be different. At what point is it really self-neglect? Amanda Lambert, MS, CMC, ALCP says families don't know when to get involved.

Self-neglect is a serious problem that may start off unnoticed until it gets out of hand. As a family member of someone who shows signs of self-neglect, it can be challenging to know when to intervene. Your standards might be different than those of your parent or another older adult, and you may not want to intrude.

Lambert says prevention is always the best planning. She suggests planning for long-term health care and ensuring financial powers of attorney are in place. 

If you wait too long, problems can mount, making it very difficult to intervene with someone who is resistant and defiant. Without some legal authority, you won't be able to get healthcare or financial information.

According to adult protective services organizations, self-neglect is the type of elder abuse most frequently reported and verified in the United States. Additionally, recent research indicates that older adults who self-neglect are more likely to experience financial exploitation and psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.

Ignoring the Problem Makes it Worse

Ignoring the problem increases the risks of health problems, additional health care costs, and the need for long-term care services. Long-term care costs are usually not paid by health insurance (including Medicare and supplements), and Medicaid will pay for long-term care service but only if the care recipient has little or no income and assets. 

While Long-Term Care Insurance will pay for long-term care in all settings, an individual cannot purchase a policy if they already need care or have declining health. 

Look for the Signs

While advance planning is essential, it might be too late for an older family member. You should look for common signs of self-neglect in older loved ones. These signs include:

  • Unsanitary living conditions

  • Unusual weight loss - including malnutrition and dehydration

  • Lack of bathing and personal hygiene

  • Unsuitable clothing

  • Hoarding

  • Refusing to take medications or mismanaging medications

  • Too many pets in the home

  • Unwillingness to manage personal affairs

Finding the Root Cause

Once self-neglect is identified, a professional must determine the root cause. Depression would be treated differently than some other form of mental illness. If dementia is the root cause, the person may require the proper supervision and long-term care.

Families should be proactive, as ignoring the problem will make it worse over time. There is sometimes the fear of embarrassing their loved ones by addressing the issue, and the problem will usually not go away unless properly addressed.

Getting the Proper Care

If your loved one needs long-term care finding quality caregivers and facilities can become problematic, especially if you live afar. LTC NEWS offers you a free-no obligation service to find care and even get help with processing a Long-Term Care Insurance claim if your parent is lucky enough to have one in place - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim.

Aging happens but neglecting your basic personal needs is not a normal part of aging. We will see a decline in our health, body, and mind as we get older. Preparing for these changes and the costs and burdens of longevity is an essential part of retirement planning. 

LTC Insurance Key

Long-Term Care Insurance will provide guaranteed tax-free resources to pay for quality care options, including care at home. When you own a policy, you own a solution giving your loved ones the time to be family instead of caregivers. 

What Is Long-Term Care Insurance & What Does It Cover?

Quality care is essential to maintaining a good quality of life, even when an individual starts to decline physically and mentally. Untrained family caregivers may not recognize some of the signs even if they are available to be caregivers.

Have you thought about what happens as you get older? Will you have the support needed to maintain quality of life without burdening your family and draining your assets? Quality care is essential, but it is costly.

The cost of long-term care services varies depending on where you live and the type of care you require. The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator will show you today's costs and the expected costs in the years and decades in the future.

Quality Care Improves Quality of Life

When you have the proper resources to pay for quality care, you will enjoy a better quality of life, and your loved ones can concentrate on being family instead of caregivers. You not only protect assets, but you reduce the stress and anxiety otherwise placed on your family.

The demand for long-term care services is placing huge pressure on American families, personal savings, and government budgets. Generation X, Late-Boomers, and the remaining Baby Boomers will worsen the problem. As more families live apart, it becomes even more difficult to manage long-term health care issues, and LTC Insurance makes it easier for everyone.

Traditional health insurance, including Medicare and available supplements, pay little to nothing toward long-term health care. Medicaid will pay for long-term care services for those with little or no income and assets. This leaves personal savings and income and Long-Term Care Insurance to pay for quality care services. However, you cannot purchase an LTC policy if you already require care. 

Long-Term Care Insurance is medically underwritten, and each insurance company has its specific underwriting rules.

What is Underwriting? How Does Current Health Impact Ability to Obtain Long-Term Care Insurance?

Keep in Touch with Older Family Members

Stay in touch with your older parents, and don't forget elderly aunts or uncles who may not have other family members. Take immediate action if you notice signs of self-neglect.

Even a neighbor may have problems, and their family may not be aware or don't know how to address the problem. For yourself and your family, avoiding a crisis before a crisis starts will reduce the stress on everyone. You may want to ignore the problem until later but later is often too late.

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About the Author

Linda is a freelance writer interested in retirement planning, health and aging.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

Editor's Note

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