When an elderly person becomes unable to care properly his or herself, the inclination of many is to have a family member take on the burden of that loved one’s care. But what if that care is too much for that family member to bare? What if the elderly loved one gets hurt while in the care of a family member? What if all that you are doing for the senior is still not enough to keep them happy and healthy?
These are questions that seldom are asked when emotions are high and the actions of loved ones are well intentioned. However, just because the answers to these questions weren’t considered when decisions were first made doesn’t mean that the consequences can be denied or ignored. And unfortunately, one consequence can be the unintentional yet real and true neglect of the elderly loved one.
What is elder neglect?
Elder neglect is actually one of five ways that an older adult can be abused. The other four forms of abuse are:
What qualifies as neglect? Rather than an “action,” neglect is mainly inaction — not doing something that the senior needs to be done for his or her utmost care. It’s also deprivation — not giving the senior something he or she needs to survive and thrive.
Depriving a senior of any of the following things constitutes neglect:
- Medical services
- Proper heating and cooling
Also, denying an older adult ANY services necessary to maintain his or her physical or mental well-being, such as help with grooming, cooking, taking medications, or cleaning the home, as well as providing supervision for safety’s sake — can be considered neglectful behavior.
What are examples of elder neglect?
Let’s say you are your mother’s caregiver. One night you are feeling extremely tired. It’s evening, and your mother has fallen asleep on the sofa. She really should have her dinner, and she doesn’t have the means of being able to prepare it herself — she needs someone to make her meals for her. However, in your exhausted state, you decide to just let her continue to sleep on the sofa. She has trouble walking, so she’ll have to sleep on the sofa until you get up in the morning. She seems comfortable enough. You make yourself a light snack and go off to bed as well.
While you might think this behavior is harmless, your mother can suffer from the ill affects of not getting enough nutrition and a good night’s rest — especially if this behavior becomes a habit, as you fail more and more to make her dinner or move her into her own bed at night.
In another scenario, let’s say your father has Alzheimer’s. He’s been known to leave the house before, and luckily, when that happened, someone was around to catch him before he wandered off too far from home. But you need to go to the grocery store to get a few things for tonight’s dinner. You decide to leave him alone in the house while you rush off to the store. The supermarket is only five minutes away, and he’ll be OK for an hour, you reason to yourself.
But the truth is, you’ve just put your father in a dangerous situation. No one would be there to stop him if he decided during that hour to leave the house. Nor would anyone be able to prevent him from doing something else dangerous within the household — such as attempting to light a stove burner to make his own dinner and then forgetting it was lit.
What are signs of elder neglect?
The following are some “red flags” that a senior has been or is being neglected:
- Unclean living spaces
- Lack of hygiene
- No food or water in the house
But neglect is not always apparent. A senior might “look” clean, but might not have had a bath or shower in a week. A senior might appear to be well, but hasn’t taken his or her blood pressure medication in several days. Or, the house might appear to be clean, but there might be old food rotting in the refrigerator and dirty clothes needing to be washed that are, instead, piling up in a closed closet.
Good intentions can pave the road to elder neglect
Of course, most caregivers don’t mean to neglect their senior loved ones. If and when it happens, it’s often due to exhaustion on their part: The caregiver is too tired from all the work he or she is already doing. Or, it’s due to ignorance: The caregiver doesn’t know how to best care for his or her loved one and doesn’t realize that lack of proper action could be detrimental to an older adult’s health.
Good intentions aside, the issues leading up to the neglect need to be addressed to put a stop to the neglect and prevent it from happening again in the future.
What can be done to stop and prevent neglect?
Often, outside help and support is warranted to help the caregiver do the best job humanly possible to keep the senior well-cared for. Fortunately, agencies such as Care & Comfort at Home specialize in doing just that — providing support to family caregivers so that the senior loved ones in their lives can get the care they both need and deserve as human beings.
Respite services from Care & Comfort at Home allow family caregivers to take a break and get the rest that they also need for their own well-being, so that they can continue to deliver the best care to the senior. To get a list of all the many in-home care services we provide, please CLICK HERE.
Care & Comfort at Home also offers supports family caregivers via our online Family Learning Center (CLICK HERE to register for FREE). This is a library of FREE online resources — written articles and informative videos — that help educate family caregivers on how to administer quality care to their senior loved ones.