Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse: www.onpea.org
Self-neglect is an abuse with no perpetrator, no named villain. It is
a condition where the individual neglects themselves, their
surroundings, and does not provide for their own basic needs. Often
associated with forms of mental illness, such as depression, dementia,
addictions, it is no less dangerous or deadly.
The indicators are often easily seen as the person often neglects their
hygiene, lives in a dirty home with poor maintenance, may have many
neglected animals, and may not dress for the weather. The person’s
behavior may also be strange as they often isolate themselves, are
resistant to get help, may be angry, fearful, frustrated, exhausted. Or
they can have a flat affect, no response, disorientation.
The question is often what came first: the self-neglect or the mental
illness? The inability to pay one’s bills or the confusion and inability
to write cheques?
These are typically people with no social support. Maybe their loved
ones have given up or maybe they were driven away. Maybe they died.
Alcohol or drug dependence can be current or in the background, but
sometimes it is at the heart of the social isolation.
Living conditions can be unsafe due to dirtiness, mold, lack of heat,
lack of water and sanitary facilities, rodents, hoarding.
Getting help for these folks can be difficult. Making them see that
they need to get medical care can be a big step. Treatment for
depression or dementia can really make a difference. Authorities from
the fire department or public health may have the power to force them to
take help. Mental health workers may be able to make sense to them that
their lifestyle is not in their best interest.
However, if they are competent and not threatening to anyone else, it
may be difficult to intervene.