Senior Corner: Spotting senior neglect

Senior Corner: Spotting senior neglect
Velda Weathers


“’Tis the season to be jolly” is the age-old saying during this time of year. Unfortunately, this is not the case for more than a few of our seniors.

Some of the seniors in our community are alone, isolated, estranged from loved ones and friends, depressed, and haven’t had visitors throughout the year. It is not surprising to learn of residents who are self-neglecting or being neglected behind closed doors.

Examples of neglect include unsanitary or unsafe housing conditions, malnourishment, unexplained weight loss, inappropriate or inadequate clothing, untreated medical conditions, a sudden withdrawal from normal activities, property or savings mismanagement, and unpaid bills. Causes of neglect are many: the lack of necessary assistance to keep physically and mentally healthy as well as the failure to provide one’s self with the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, needed medical care and reasonable financial management.

Family, friends and colleagues who visit a neglected loved one may find themselves in disbelief over the condition of the home or the condition of the senior (mentally, medically or physically). Adult protective services receives calls and makes home visits to investigate suspected allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation of seniors older than 60 and adults with disabilities older than 18.

It is important to keep in mind when visiting your loved one during this holiday season that they still have the right to make poor decisions unless they have been deemed incapacitated by a judge. What you see as being poor judgment or poor decision-making may not be the perspective of the senior.

This may be difficult to understand, but we must recognize the senior’s right to self-determination. Many seniors will tell their children, friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues to respect their wishes and their lifestyle. This can be a difficult situation for their children, especially as they may have to take the lead in ending neglect.

Appropriate steps to take may include calling protective services, taking the senior to their primary care physician (if there is one) or to the hospital emergency room (perhaps, unfortunately, against their will), getting help from mental health professionals, or seeking legal advice regarding guardianship/conservatorship.

Many seniors tell their protective services worker to respect their wishes and way of living. Some fear that they will be taken from their home and placed in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

The role of the protective services worker is to investigate the allegations, ensure the safety of the senior and provide intervention if necessary. Seniors, though, have the right to refuse the agency’s services and the right to self-determination.
If you suspect a senior in your community is being neglected or self-neglecting, call us at 703-746-5999 or use the 24-hour hotline number at 1-888-832-3858.

– The writer is a supervisor with adult protective services.