Pope Francis Shines New Spotlight on Neglect of Elderly, Survey Finds Elder Self-Neglect is a Growing and Hidden Problem in U.S. says NAPGCM

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This weekend Pope Francis drew the world's attention to neglect of the elderly, which he called "tantamount to hidden euthanasia." A new survey of elder care experts in the U.S. finds that self-neglect is a growing problem that often goes unreported in this country.

Most Common Forms of Elder Abuse

"Elder self-neglect is a growing and all-too-often hidden problem," said Emily Saltz, NAPGCM President

This weekend Pope Francis drew world-wide attention to the problem of neglect of the elderly. Speaking to 40,000 seniors in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, he decried the neglect and abandonment of the elderly. "Violence against the elderly is as inhuman as that against children," Pope Francis said. "How many times are old people just discarded, victims of an abandonment that is tantamount to hidden euthanasia. This is the result of a throw-away culture that is hurting our world so much," he said.

His remarks came on the heels of the release of a new survey which found that self-neglect among the elderly is a growing problem that commonly goes unreported in the U.S. The survey by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM), found that self-neglect is the most common form of non-financial elderly abuse/neglect encountered by care managers, far outpacing encounters with physical or sexual abuse or neglect by others.

The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) defines self-neglect as: “an adult’s inability, due to physical or mental impairment or diminished capacity, to perform essential self-care….”

“Elderly self-neglect is a tragic and all-too-often hidden problem in our nation,” said Emily Saltz, President of NAPGCM.

Key Findings of the NAPGCM Survey (298 geriatric care managers surveyed from 9/12 to 9/16/2014):

  •     92% of care managers said that elderly self-neglect was a significant problem in their community, with 52% saying it is significant and growing problem.
  •     94% of care managers agreed that elderly self-neglect is a largely hidden problem with cases frequently or mostly going unreported.
  •     76% of care managers surveyed reported that elderly self-neglect is the most common non-financial form of elder abuse/neglect that they encounter in their practices. Another form of neglect – that by family or others was the 2nd most commonly reported form (16%), followed by emotional/psychological abuse (8%) and physical and sexual abuse (1%).
  •     The 5 warning signs of self-neglect most often cited by care managers are:    

o    Signs of poor personal hygiene/not bathing or taking care of hair and nails (92 %)
o    Poor medication management or refusing to take medications (89%)
o    Signs of dehydration, malnutrition or other unattended health conditions (75%)
o    Unsanitary of very unclean living quarters (72%)
o    Signs of unpaid bills, bounced checks or utility shut-offs (64%)

Geriatric Care Managers responding to the NAPGCM poll shared over 150 cases of self-neglect encountered in their practices. Typical of the tragic stories:

“A husband and wife both had dementia. The husband had always been in charge, and at one time had been quite capable. When I met them, his dementia was significant enough that he could no longer effectively and safely run the household and neither one of them realized this. Huge hoarding issue with papers, magazines, books, computers...beautiful house was FULL of stuff, so much that it was challenging to walk through. Husband had frequent falls. Neither was cooking. They were surviving on granola bars and Pepsi.”

“78 year-old man with large oozing sores on both shins refused to go to wound care specialist and insisted his podiatrist was handling the problem. We later learned he never went to the podiatrist, instead would sit in his car for approximately the length of time the appointment would have taken, then drive home. He refused to allow son or care manager to accompany him or meet him at physician's office. His legs were usually wrapped in ACE bandages which did nothing to stop the oozing. He later died in a nursing home after refusing wound care.”

What should be done? Where and how to report? The National Center on Elder Abuse provides a listing of resources in every state for reporting and responding to cases of elderly self-neglect.

About NAPGCM
The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) was formed in 1985 to advance dignified care for older adults and their families. Geriatric Care Managers are professionals who have extensive training and experience working with older people, people with disabilities and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. They assist older adults who wish to remain in their homes, or can help families in the search for a suitable nursing home placement or extended care if the need occurs. For more information please visit http://www.caremanager.org

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