Elder Neglect

Elder neglect is the failure to care for an older adult, which can result in serious mental and physical repercussions. Neglect is often inflicted by nursing home staff or family members. In some cases, the older adult can neglect themselves. Even if the neglect is unintentional, it still counts as abuse. Recognizing the signs of neglect can help keep your loved ones safe and in good health.

Lindsey Crossmier, writer for RetireGuide
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APA Crossmier, L. (2022, August 2). Elder Neglect. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/types-of-elderly-abuse/elder-neglect/

MLA Crossmier, Lindsey. "Elder Neglect." RetireGuide.com, 2 Aug 2022, https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/types-of-elderly-abuse/elder-neglect/.

Chicago Crossmier, Lindsey. "Elder Neglect." RetireGuide.com. Last modified August 2, 2022. https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/types-of-elderly-abuse/elder-neglect/.

What Is Elder Neglect?

Elder neglect is failing or refusing to provide essential needs to an older adult that threatens their general wellbeing. In severe cases, elder neglect can be life-threatening.

Regardless of who the abuser is, the examples of elder neglect are typically similar, if not the same. If you or a loved one has experienced any of the elder neglect examples below, the abuse should be reported.

Elder Neglect Examples
  • Not providing a sustainable amount of food or water
  • A lack of clean clothing
  • Little to no personal hygiene assistance
  • Withholding medications or medical aids
  • Living in a dangerous living space

Elder neglect can come from family members, nursing home staff or even from the older adult themselves, which is defined as elder self-neglect.

According to the National Library of Medicine, elder self-neglect affects millions of older adults every year. Elder self-neglect is when the older adult is no longer able to, or chooses not to, care for themselves.

While any adult is susceptible to neglect, some living conditions can put one more at risk. For example, the probability of an older adult suffering from neglect increases if they live in a nursing home, according to the World Health Organization.

Nursing Home Neglect

Many are concerned about the quality of care in a nursing home. This is not an unrealistic fear. According to the World Health Organization, two out of three nursing staff members admitted to neglecting their residents.

Before choosing a nursing home, you should tour the location thoroughly and check the staff’s credentials.

Signs of Nursing Home Neglect
  • Impatient or frustrated staff
  • Resident appears fearful of staff
  • New medical conditions develop since moving into nursing home
  • Resident no longer reaches out to loved ones or appears emotionally cut off
  • Living quarters are in disarray with unsafe conditions
  • Unkempt appearance or hygiene

If you wish to avoid moving yourself or a loved one into a nursing home, you should start retirement planning now as there are other senior housing and care options available.

While there are specific signs of neglect in a nursing home, it’s also important to recognize the general signs of neglect across all settings.

Signs of Neglect Among Seniors

The common signs of neglect are dehydration, malnourishment, poor hygiene, unbalanced medications, lost medical aids and unsafe living conditions. The result of neglect can spur other types of elder abuse.

For example, if an older adult is missing their hearing aids, they will likely feel cut off from the world. This will bring on feelings of isolation and depression. In this situation, neglect results in emotional abuse.

Did you know?
Experiencing multiple types of abuse at once is called poly-victimization. Roughly 80% of women and 60% of male victims were classified as poly-victims, according to a study from Biomed Central.

How to Prevent Neglect

To prevent elder neglect, it’s best to understand the risk factors and who is likely to be an abuser.

Older adults with memory issues are at high risk for neglect. According to the National Council on Aging, roughly 50% of those with dementia experience elder neglect. Check in with your loved one regularly to ensure they aren’t being targeted.

If your loved one is being provided care by someone with a criminal record, they are more likely to suffer abuse. Up to 46% of abusers had a criminal record at the time of the offense, according to the National Center of Elder Abuse. Getting a background check and confirming references can help deter elder neglect.

Don’t hire someone with a history of childhood abuse or subsistence issues. They are more likely to inflict abuse as an adult. If you know a family member has struggled with abuse before, it’s best to consider other options.

In other cases, confirm the older adult is of sound mind and able to properly care for themselves to deter self-neglect. Sometimes the older adult may not be aware they need help due to memory issues.

Tips to Prevent Elder Neglect
  • Check in on your loved one regularly
  • Only allow home and health care services from those you trust
  • Confirm the older adult can provide sufficient self-care
  • Do background checks on caregivers and staff
  • Ensure the older adult has their own phone
  • Make sure the older adult stays active in their community

Is Neglect a Form of Elder Abuse?

Yes, the National Institute on Aging defines neglect as a form of elder abuse.

Even if the neglect is not on purpose, it is still abuse. For example, if you repeatedly forget to pick up an older adults’ medication, this deteriorates their health and is considered abuse.

There are elder laws in most states that specifically outlaw elder neglect. For example, in Florida, if an individual willfully neglects an older adult, causing injury, a permanent disability or disfigurement, then the act is considered a second-degree felony.

Elder neglect is a serious type of elder abuse in which the abusers will have severe legal consequences.

How to Report Elder Neglect

If you’re in a life-threatening situation, dial 911 immediately. If you are not in immediate danger but wish to report the neglect and possibly be relocated, there are other options available.

You can report elder neglect by calling the nationwide Eldercare locator at 1-800-677-1116.

If you want to report elder neglect with your specific state department, the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) has a program list with each state’s elder abuse hotline number.

Last Modified: August 2, 2022

6 Cited Research Articles

  1. World Health Organization. (2022, June 13). Abuse of Older People. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/abuse-of-older-people
  2. Biomed Central. (2021, February 17). Lifetime Prevalence of Poly-Victimization Among Older Adults in Sweden, Associations With Ill-Heath, and the Mediating Effect of Sense of Coherence. Retrieved from https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-021-02074-4
  3. The Florida Legislature. (2021). The 2021 Florida Statutes. Retrieved from http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0800-0899/0825/Sections/0825.102.html
  4. National Institute on Aging. (2020, July 29). Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse
  5. Dong, X. (2017, June 8). Elder Self-Neglect: Research and Practice. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5472408/
  6. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Research, Statistics, and Data. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/What-We-Do/Research/Statistics-and-Data.aspx