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Elder Neglect for Family Members and Carers

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is elder neglect?

Elder neglect occurs when someone fails to properly care for an elderly person. A carer may be a family member or someone who is responsible for caring for the person. The carer may not bathe, dress, or feed the person regularly. The carer may leave the person alone in unsafe places. He or she may not give the person treatments, or may give him or her the wrong amount of medicines. Neglect can happen in the person's own home, the carer's home, or a facility, such as a nursing home.

What causes elder neglect?

The exact cause of elder neglect is not known. Poor or crowded living conditions may be one of the reasons it occurs. The following may increase the person's risk for neglect:

  • Learning or memory problems
  • A long-term medical condition, such as dementia, diabetes, paralysis, or stroke
  • A lack of relatives or friends who can take care of him or her
  • Age older than 75 years
  • Difficulty getting along with others
  • A carer who depends heavily on the person for things such as money or housing
  • A carer who drinks alcohol or uses illegal drugs
  • A carer who has a personality disorder, depression, or another mental illness
  • A carer who has a history of family violence, such as physical or sexual abuse
  • A carer who has stress due to work, taking care of the person, or financial problems

What are the signs and symptoms of elder neglect?

  • Mouth or tooth problems
  • Body pain and weakness
  • Signs of dehydration, such as dry skin, eyes, or mouth, urinating little or nothing, or dizziness
  • Depression or a health condition that has worsened
  • Poor hygiene (dirty clothing or bedding)
  • Pressure injuries (sores) on his or her lower back, hip, or thigh
  • Weight loss

How is elder neglect diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will examine the person closely to look for any health problems caused by neglect. He or she will ask questions about the person's health. The person may be asked if he or she has been eating properly, taking medicines, and bathing. Healthcare providers may also ask questions about the carer.

  • Blood and urine tests may be done to check for health problems, such as malnutrition and infection.
  • X-rays may be needed if the person has pressure injuries or bruising. Healthcare providers may use these pictures to see if there is an infection in the bone near a pressure injury. They may also check to see if his or her bones are bruised or broken. X-rays of his or her chest and abdomen may also be taken.

How is elder neglect treated?

A person who has been neglected may be placed in another setting, such as an adult day care. Special services may be offered to ensure the person's safety and health.

  • Elder neglect may cause the person to feel scared, depressed, or anxious. A healthcare provider may suggest that the person see a counselor to talk about how he or she is feeling.
  • A dietitian may talk to you and the person about his or her eating habits and help to create a healthy eating plan. A special diet may be considered depending on the person's condition. The person should eat a variety of healthy foods. This includes whole-grain bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, including dark green and orange vegetables. Include dairy products such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose protein sources, such as lean beef and chicken, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • Healthcare providers may give medicines if the person has medical conditions. He or she may also need antibiotic medicines if he has sores.

What are the risks of elder neglect?

If left untreated, the person may develop serious health and emotional problems. He or she may develop dehydration or malnutrition. Malnutrition occurs when he or she does not get enough calories or nutrients from food to stay healthy. The person may also become depressed. Elder neglect is a serious, life-threatening problem.

How can I help the person?

  • Report neglect. It may be hard to report neglect, but it is very important. Healthcare providers can help the person if he or she is at risk for or is a victim of elder abuse.
  • Attend follow-up visits with the person. A healthcare provider may talk to you, the person, his or her family, friends, or those who should be held responsible for elder neglect. This may include what may happen if elder neglect does not stop.

Where can I find more information?

  • National Center on Elder Abuse
    c/o University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine
    Alhambra , CA 91803
    Phone: 1- 855 - 500-3537
    Web Address:

When should I seek immediate care?

  • The person develops pressure injuries.
  • The person feels like hurting himself, herself, or someone else.
  • The person feels that he or she cannot cope with the abuse, or recover from it.
  • The person has shortness of breath, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

When should I contact the person's doctor?

  • The person cannot get to his or her next office visit.
  • The person has new signs and symptoms.
  • You or the person has questions or concerns about his or her condition or care.

Care Agreement

The person has the right to help plan his own care. To help with this plan, he or she must learn about his or her health condition and how it may be treated. He or she can then discuss treatment options with healthcare providers. Together they can decide what care and treatment may be used. The person always has the right to refuse treatment.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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