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2005-01-13 / Savvy Senior



The other day I stopped in to see a former neighbor who was recently widowed and lives by himself. I hadn’t seen him for a while and I was stunned by what I saw. A man who was once an impeccable groomer with an immaculate house and yard was living in squalor. He was also wearing a wrinkled shirt that was too small and not heavy enough for the cold weather. This isn’t the same guy I remember. A first I suspected A1zheimer’s, but he seems alert, and his memory was as sharp as ever when we talked about the old days. Any idea what is going on here?

Stunned Sarah

Dear Stunned

It might be a form of elder abuse. Most people, when they think of elder abuse, think of physical or emotional torment inflicted by another person, but that’s only part of it. Did you know that self-neglect accounts for the majority of elder abuse cases reported to adult protective services?

Self-neglect is often associated with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, but not always. It can also be brought on by a person’s declining health, isolation, depression or drug and alcohol dependency. And, symptoms of self-neglect may include things like poor hygiene, inappropriate dress and behavior, hoarding, failure to take essential medicines or seek medical treatment, confusion, and poor housekeeping.

Savvy Facts: The most common type of elder abuse is neglect, and family members are most often the abusers.

Elder Abuse

While there’s no exact figure on how many seniors in the United States are abused each year, either by themselves or by others, some studies indicate the number could be as high as 5 million.

Here are the different forms of elder abuse and some early telltale signs:

•Physical abuse. Signs could include bruises, pressure marks, abrasions, bumps or the refusal by the caregiver to allow visitors.

•Emotional abuse. Warning signs may include someone depressed, withdrawn, less alert or extremely agitated.

•Sexual abuse. Nonconsensual sexual contact of any kind.

•Exploitation. Look for changes in the elder’s bank or financial accounts or unauthorized withdrawal of funds using the elder’s ATM card. Also watch out for missing valuables.

•Neglect. Warning signs may include bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, unsanitary and unclean living conditions, and unusual weight loss.

•Abandonment. Desertion of an elder, whether it be at a hospital, nursing facility, shopping center or other location.

What To Do

It’s estimated that only around 20 percent of elder abuse cases in the U.S. get reported. If you notice changes in an elder’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on with them or their caregiver. And if someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9- 1 - 1. If it’s not an emergency, report your concerns to your state elder abuse hotline. To get the number can the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.

Savvy Resources

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA): A national resource that provides information and state elder abuse contact information. Visit www. elderabusecenter. org or call 202-898-2586.

The National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA): Addresses the common needs and concerns of all family caregivers. Visit or call 1-800-896-3650.

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA): Offers caregiving resources, publications and a toll-free number (1-800-445-8106) to request caregiving advice. Visit

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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