Neglect is a common form of elder abuse and it doesn’t always come from external sources. Neglect is frequently self-imposed and overlooked. It’s true. Elder abuse is often misunderstood and undetected. According to the Bureau of Justice it affects about 9.5% of the elderly population. But that is based on the number of cases they know about. Many cases of elder abuse go undetected because it is friends and family who are committing the abuse. It other cases the abuse is self-inflicted. So elder abuse affects a far greater number of people than the 2,150,000 cases reported each year.
There are many forms of elder abuse: Neglect, physical, financial exploitation, emotional, and sexual. Neglect is the most common (58.5% of the cases) and it is often self-inflicted. Whether self-inflicted or not, it is difficult to detect. Especially in the early stages, neglect is often written off by observers. An unkempt elderly person may be seen as carefree, one who has no fashion sense, or is simply forgetful. Loss of weight may be excused by a recent illness or seen as a desire for the elder to finally get healthy. The other aspects of neglect can be even more difficult to confirm. Is the elder getting proper medication, food and supplies? Are they under the care of a doctor? Is their environment clean and healthy?
How to Stop Self-Inflicted Elder Abuse
So what can you do about it? If you have neighbor who is 65 or older, then make a point to visit them. Don’t stop with a phone call. Stop by their home, knock on the door and say hi. Spend some time talking to them. Perhaps even bring gifts. Simple things, like fruit, vegetables from your garden, crossword puzzles, or a book. Work to “break the ice” and extend the visit. Your goal is to get invited into their home where you can spend an hour or so visiting. Encourage them to talk about themselves.
If only one person in each neighborhood in the country would do this, it would make a real reduction in elder abuse. If the abuse is self-inflicted, your efforts may reduce or eliminate it. Your involvement may lift the elder’s spirits and influence them to take better care of themselves. You may discover the elder needs help with laundry, cooking, or shopping.
If your visits do not improve the elder’s life it may mean the elder needs more help than you can provide. It may be time to suggest a professional caregiver come in to help. There comes a time in everyone’s life, if we are graced with a long one, that we need help from others. However, this can be a very difficult thing for adults to accept as they age. As a friend, you may be able to help the elder adjust to the idea with grace and dignity.
Most self-inflicted neglect is common and reversible through involvement in an elder’s life. However self-inflicted abuse may be a symptom of dementia. In the case of dementia, professionals must diagnose the situation. If you are unable to get the elder to a doctor, then it is time to call Adult Protective Services. Dementia is a serious illness that requires treatment and proper care by professionals.
What if the Neglect is Not Self-Inflicted Elder Abuse?
However, if abuse is coming from a friend or relative, then that’s a little more complicated. It may be that stress or too many responsibilities is having a negative effect on the friend or relative. In that case, offer to help or put them in touch with a reputable caregiving company. If the abuse continues, it may be family dynamics or old emotional wounds motivate the abuse. In that case, you may have to involve Adult Protective Services. If you unsure who to contact in your area, you can start with the National Adult Protective Services Association.