August 9, 2007 / 3:01 PM / 12 years ago

Age-related illness may lead to self-neglect

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Elderly people who display “self-neglect” behavior often suffer from common age-related ailments like depression, heart problems, and dementia, a new study shows.

“These disorders render the senior unable to perform the tasks necessary for daily living” such as eating and bathing, Dr. Carmel Bitondo Dyer, a researcher from the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, told Reuters Health.

Some elderly persons who neglect themselves simply lack access to support services, whereas others either refuse help, or when provided access to services cannot complete the tasks necessary to obtain these services, Dyer and colleagues note in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers sought to identify factors associated with self-neglect by studying 538 people who were referred to an adult protective service agency because they weren’t taking care of themselves. Their average age was 75.6 years and 70 percent were women.

The team found that two-thirds of these subjects had physical problems that prevented them from functioning normally, half scored poorly on mental health tests, and virtually all of them (95 percent) had inadequate social support networks.

Patients in the study had a range of illnesses, yet 46 percent were not on any medication. For example, 52 percent had high blood pressure but only 24 percent were taking blood pressure-lowering medication; and 25 percent had diabetes yet only 15 percent were taking an anti-diabetes medication. Other common disorders, which often went untreated, were arthritis, stroke, dementia and depression.

Self-neglect is a very common problem among the aged, Dyer and colleagues note in their report.

“We have a theory,” she told Reuters Health, “that if social or medical support is not available or declined by these elders, they may manifest self-neglecting behaviors, such as living in very dirty homes or suffering the consequences of otherwise treatable diseases like hypertension or diabetes.”

“Lack of family or social support was the most common finding in this study, which supports our theory,” she added.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, September 2007.

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