It is comprehensible that an older adult living alone may be a victim of self-neglect. If an elderly individual with diminished capacities does not have family, friends, or neighbors to regularly assist and support them, there is a possibility that they will fall into a dangerous situation of poor hygiene, undernourishment, untaken medications, or failure to treat illness or injury. But this should never happen to someone living in a facility specifically designed to care for those who are not able to care for themselves—a nursing home.
When left unaddressed, self-neglect will significantly impact a person’s physical and psychological well-being. Nursing homes do not exist to help those who help themselves. A nursing home’s function is to meet the needs of a person whose needs are not able to be met by another party, whether that party is themselves or a loved one or caregiver. If nursing home staff ignores, disregards, or misses the needs of the individual, they are guilty of neglect, or abuse in egregious situations of harm. If you or a loved one has experienced nursing home neglect or abuse in Chicago, contact a nursing home abuse lawyer who can defend your rights and protect others from a similar situation of harm.
The term “self-neglect” may not be fully understood by a large percentage of the U.S. population. Many people think of self-neglect as a choice, rather than an inability. In fact, those who experience self-neglect cannot be blamed for their actions, in the same way that any abused person is a victim, not a perpetrator. Within this topic, we will examine the medical meaning of self-neglect, its prevalence and impact on the elderly community, and what to do if it occurs in a nursing home setting.
What Is Self-Neglect in Older Adults?
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) defines self-neglect as the behavior of an elderly person which jeopardizes personal health or safety. It generally manifests in a failure to ensure that adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medication, and safety is provided to oneself. And according to the Elder Justice Act (EJA), the first piece of federal legislation passed to authorize funding to address elder abuse, self-neglect is an adult’s inability, due to physical or mental impairment or diminished capacity, to perform essential selfcare tasks. This includes:
- Obtaining essential food, clothing, shelter, and medical care
- Obtaining the goods and services necessary to maintain physical health, mental health, or general safety
- Managing one’s own financial affairs
An inability or refusal to care for one’s own basic needs can be rooted in a wide range of sources. A declining physical condition, bodily or mental illness, dementia, poverty, depression, diminished quality of life, or the loss or absence of loved ones or caregivers can be contributing factors to self-neglect.
The Prevalence and Impact of Self-Neglect
The prevalence of self-neglect among older adults is difficult to assess, but investigations are finding it to be an increasingly grim issue, particularly in light of both an aging overall population and a rising number of seniors living alone. In a 2018 HHS report, it was revealed that more than half of reported cases of elder abuse or neglect investigated nationally by Adult Protective Services involved self-neglect as the primary issue.
A few studies conducted on varying demographic groups in our own Chicago area have determined that the numbers are higher than one might imagine. A Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) study on 5,519 older adults residing in multiple neighborhoods of Chicago found that 21.7% of older African–Americans surveyed suffered self-neglect. Self-neglect research conducted among 3,159 older Chinese adults in Chicago found the overall prevalence of self-neglect to be 29.11% among the living community. Further studies on community-dwelling Chicago elders of varying backgrounds found that elder self-neglect was associated with higher rates of hospitalization—the greater the severity of self-neglect, the higher the rate of hospitalization.
Overwhelmingly, self-neglect has been systematically linked with deteriorating health and heightened rates of mortality. Self-neglect has been shown to have a destructive effect on physical, psychological, and emotional well-being. Individuals who suffer self-neglect are more likely to require professional health care and hospitalization, and the loved ones of those unable to care for themselves often turn to nursing homes to fulfill the need for long-term, hands-on care.
Nursing Homes and Self-Neglect in Residents
Nursing homes are often viewed as a solution to self-neglect. When family members are powerless to provide the spectrum of medical and physical care their aging loved one requires, nursing home care can become a sensible option.
It is the duty of nursing home staff to ensure that residents are provided food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and all things needed to maintain health and safety. When staff members fall short in their duty to provide these basic life-sustaining necessities, a situation of abuse or neglect has occurred. The trained professionals employed by nursing homes must have the ability to recognize and rectify situations of self-neglect among nursing home residents.
One way that nursing homes must design and make accommodations for a resident’s needs is through a patient care plan. A nursing home’s caregiving staff has a responsibility to gather each patient’s health information and review their current condition to prepare all details of a resident’s care schedule. Most federally-funded facilities are required to meet certain standards when it comes to developing care plans. When choosing a nursing home, it is important to discuss how, when, and to what degree the facility will tend to physical, medical, psychological, emotional, and social needs.
Recognizing the Signs of Self-Neglect in Nursing Homes Settings
Individuals who struggle to care for themselves should never be in an environment in which they are not properly cared for by others. When an elderly individual entrusts their health to a nursing home, it is expected that the care they receive will be better than what they received before entering the facility, not worse.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, there may be evidence that a nursing home has not properly managed a resident’s self-neglect, and that abuse, neglect, or exploitation has been allowed to take place:
- Confusion, depression, or altered moods and mental states
- Bed sores
- Emotional or psychological trauma
- Malnutrition and dehydration
- Falling and signs of physical trauma on the body
- Declining physical conditions including poor eyesight and hearing, weight loss, and incontinence
- Evidence of misuse of physical and chemical restraints
- Isolation or abandonment
- Poor personal hygiene or soiled clothes and bed linens
- Signs of financial exploitation
- Loss of enjoyment of favorite activities, hobbies, and social events
What To Do If You Suspect Abuse or Neglect
The Illinois Department on Aging (DOA) Adult Protective Services (APS) offers a Senior Helpline providing information and resources benefitting the older adult community. The APS also has a statewide, 24-hour Adult Protective Services Hotline. If you suspect abuse, exploitation, or neglect of an older adult, call 1-866-800-1409. Additionally, the agency’s webpage offers an online index to help you locate your local Adult Protective Services Provider Agency.
When abuse has been perpetrated at the hands of a facility designed for care and treatment, legal action must be taken to stop and prevent it from reoccurring. Our firm at Thomas Law Offices has successfully represented clients and their loved ones who have suffered abuse, neglect, and exploitation in a nursing home. If you are seeking legal advice about how to handle a situation of nursing home abuse, contact us today for a free consultation.