Self-neglect implies not caring for self. It can include ignoring personal hygiene, not paying bills, not obtaining or preparing food (leading to undernutrition), not seeking medical care for potentially serious symptoms, not filling prescriptions or taking drugs, and skipping follow-up visits.
Risk factors for self-neglect include social isolation, disorders that impair memory or judgment (eg, dementia), the presence of several chronic disorders, and severe depression. Differentiating between self-neglect and simply choosing to live in a way that others find undesirable can be difficult. Social workers are often in the best position to make this determination.
Adult Protective Services or the state unit on aging (whose numbers are available through the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116) can help by coordinating in-home safety assessments and helping the elderly obtain counseling services, emergency response systems, referrals to additional support services, and, if necessary, hospitalization.
Last full review/revision September 2009 by Barbara J. Berkman, DSW/PhD; Daniel B. Kaplan, MSW
Content last modified February 2012