Imagine entering the house of an elderly loved one and being greeted by a foul-smelling odor that appears to have no identifiable source. Unmarked boxes and teetering piles of paper are stacked in alternating piles as high as the ceiling. Your loved one, dressed in stained nightclothes, may not even realize anything is amiss.

This scene is very shocking to you considering that the last time you visited your loved one—just a few months ago—both their house and their physical appearance were nearly immaculate.

Self-neglect is a common problem among elderly people that is both disturbing and, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Rush University, potentially life-threatening.

Elder Self Neglect

In a study of almost 10,000 elderly people, it was discovered that elder self-neglect was responsible for a five-fold increase in premature death for elders.

This heightened mortality risk was most prominent in the year following the diagnosis of self-neglect.

Elder self-neglect is a more prevalent dilemma than most people recognize. In fact, most research points to self-neglect being the most common form of elder abuse. A confusing statement, as self-neglect is a form of abuse that doesn't involve others at all.

Self-neglect comes in a variety of flavors. Some elders stop taking their medications, others cease cleaning their home, still others stop bathing and grooming. The Rush University study found that elders who have a social network that is either lacking or nonexistent are more prone to falling into a dangerous pattern of self-neglect.

Caregivers Response to Self-Neglect

Even if they don't yet require outside care, be sure to keep an eye on your elderly loved ones. Illnesses or conditions that follow a progressive pattern such as dementia, Parkinson's, depression, or addiction may lead to a gradual loss of ability or interest in self care.

If a senior begins to show signs of self-neglect like dirty clothes, a cluttered house, or a constantly disheveled appearance, intervention may be necessary. If you decide to intervene, make sure that you plan your actions according to the demeanor of the elder and the extent of the self-neglect.

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There are often local agencies that you can contact to help assist an elder who is not taking care of themselves. Adult Protective Services are duty-bound to investigate every claim of abuse and neglect that is reported to them. They have experience in dealing with self-neglecting elders and have a number of resources available to them to help an elder in need.

Other AgingCare articles you may be interested in:

20 Warning Signs Your Parent Needs Help at Home

Preventing the 5 Kinds of Elder Abuse