When Elder Abuse Is Self-Inflicted

elder woman sitting in chair looking lost


Rebecca went to visit her mother, who lived nearly 2000 miles away. She visited about once a year, but kept in regular phone contact. That’s why Rebecca was shocked to discover a house in disarray when she arrived. There were dirty dishes in the sink, empty juice cartons and cereal boxes scattered throughout the house and, most alarmingly, an unopened bottle of medication that had nearly expired. Her mother’s ankles were badly swollen and the clothes she was wearing clearly hadn’t been washed recently.

Self-neglect is one of the hidden stories of elder abuse. According to a study by the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the National Adult Protective Services Association, nationwide, self-neglect accounts for more calls to adult protective services agencies than any other form of elder abuse.

Self-neglect happens when a person, typically an elder, is no longer able – or chooses not to –practice basic self-care, including personal hygiene, eating healthfully, maintaining a safe environment and managing personal finances. This can be due to simply losing interest in life or because the person may no longer have the mental or physical ability to care for themselves.

A study by the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA) found that 92 percent of care managers identified self-neglect as a significant problem in their area and 94 percent said it is a largely hidden problem that is severely underreported.

Getting help for a loved one

If you have a parent or loved one who is suffering from self-neglect, help is available. You may want to start by engaging the services of an Aging Life Care Professional®, who can put you in touch with local resources and develop a plan of action to provide the care your loved one needs.

One possible solution may be to enlist the aid of an in-home caregiver. While you may encounter some resistance to having a “stranger” in the house, explain that a caregiver will actually increase your loved one’s independence to do the things they enjoy without having to worry about the day-to-day maintenance of the home. In-home caregivers can provide support in a number of important ways.


A lack of healthful food in the home is one of the most serious manifestations of self-neglect. An in-home caregiver can help in the planning and preparation of nutritious and tasty meals as well as do the grocery shopping. Having a companion in the home may also be a catalyst for increasing a senior’s interest in food.


Poor grooming, wearing dirty clothes or spending all day in one’s pajamas is often one of the first signs of self-neglect. An in-home caregiver can help with an elder’s most basic hygienic needs, while providing a kind and sympathetic ear.

Activities of Daily Living

Self-neglect also occurs because the senior simply isn’t able to perform the duties of daily living, either because of physical limitations or cognitive impairment. An in-home caregiver can help with getting out of bed, bathing, dressing, and even providing reminders when it’s time to take medication.


Simply having someone else in the home, monitoring the situation, provides numerous adult children with a sense of relief. Companions can help with daily tasks such as laundry and light housekeeping, but their real service is simply spending time with the person to learn about their past accomplishments as well as their hopes and dreams for the future. An in-home companion can keep an eye on things to ensure everything is running smoothly while giving the elder a sense of purpose and well-being.

If your loved one needs more help than an in-home caregiver can provide, a Pathways care manager can provide a thorough assessment and develop a plan of care.

Categories: Senior Health