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Elder Neglect

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is elder neglect?

Elder neglect occurs when a carer fails to properly care for you. A carer may be a family member or someone else who is responsible for caring for you. Your carer may not bathe, dress, or feed you regularly. He or she may leave you alone in unsafe places. He or she may not give you the treatments you need, or give you the wrong amount of medicines. Neglect can happen in your 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 why it occurs. The following may increase your risk of neglect:

  • You have learning or memory problems.
  • You have a long-term condition, such as dementia, diabetes, paralysis, or stroke.
  • You have no relatives or friends who can take care of you.
  • You are older than 75 years of age.
  • You have difficulty getting along with others.
  • The carer depends heavily on you for things such as money or housing.
  • The carer drinks alcohol or uses illegal drugs.
  • The carer has a personality disorder, depression, or another mental illness.
  • The carer has a history of family violence, such as physical or sexual abuse.
  • The carer has stress due to work, taking care of you, 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 your lower back, hip, or thigh
  • Weight loss

How is elder neglect diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your body closely to look for any health problems caused by neglect. He or she will ask questions about your health. He or she may ask you if you have been eating properly, taking medicines, and bathing. He or she may also ask you questions about your carer.

  • Blood and urine tests: Blood and urine tests may be done to check for health problems, such as malnutrition and infection.
  • X-rays: You may need x-rays if you have 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 your bones are bruised or broken. X-rays of your chest and abdomen may also be taken.

How is elder neglect treated?

You may be placed in another setting, such as an adult day care. Special services may be offered to you to ensure your safety and health.

  • Counseling: Elder neglect may cause you to feel scared, depressed, or anxious. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you see a counselor to talk about how you are feeling.
  • Nutrition: A dietitian may talk to you about your eating habits and help you create a healthy eating plan. A special diet may be considered depending on your health condition. Choose healthy foods from all the food groups every day. Include whole-grain bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. Eat 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.
  • Medicines: Healthcare providers may give you medicines if you have medical conditions. You may also need antibiotic medicines if you have pressure injuries.
  • Other treatments: You may need treatment for other health conditions.

What are the risks of elder neglect?

If left untreated, you may develop serious health and emotional problems. You may develop dehydration or malnutrition. Malnutrition occurs when you do not get enough calories or nutrients from food to keep you healthy. You may also become depressed. Elder neglect is a serious, life-threatening problem.

How can you help yourself?

  • Report neglect: It may be hard to report neglect, but it is very important. Healthcare providers can help you if you are at risk for or are a victim of elder neglect.
  • Go to follow-up visits: Your healthcare provider may talk to you, your 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 contact my healthcare provider?

  • You develop pressure injuries.
  • You cannot go to your next office visit.
  • You have new signs and symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.
  • You feel that you cannot cope with your condition or your recovery from it.
  • You have shortness of breath, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have 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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