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Self-neglect and the elderly: Know the signs

A 1998 study found in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed self-neglect among the elderly is associated with an increased risk for death. Generally, persons who refuse medical treatment or neglect their own care are unaware they need assistance. There are clues caregivers can look for to give them a better indication of whether their loved one needs a higher level of intervention.

Caregivers should ask:

• Is my loved one malnourished?

• Is the refrigerator well-stocked with fresh food, or are there old, spoiled foods?

• Are they showing signs of poor hygiene?

• Do they have infections or sores that are not healing?

• Are they taking their medication or are they taking it in the manner in which it was prescribed?

• Are they becoming socially-isolated?

• How is their hearing and vision? Have they been assessed recently?

Dementia, depression, and substance abuse problems are frequently associated with self-neglect. If self-neglect is suspected, the next logical step is to determine whether they are safe to return to their home. A physician will need to be consulted to assess their level of psychological functioning. If the senior is not in immediate danger, some less urgent approaches can be explored.

Medication management may be the first step. Some medications, if taken incorrectly, can cause or contribute to confusion. A healthcare professional can help determine if that is the case. Friendly visitors or telephone calls can serve as reminders to take medications.

Adult daycare can be a wonderful social outlet, combining supervision with activities and meals, if desired. This is especially helpful in situations where depression is suspected. The goal is to help seniors remain independent as much as possible, and as much as practical.

For more information contact the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center.

The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.

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