Abuse or Neglect May Hasten Seniors' Death
Families and caregivers should be attuned to warnings, experts urge
(HealthDay News) --
Though many people worry about their elderly loved ones falling or having a heart attack, they also should be concerned about self-neglect or senior abuse, research suggests.
Seniors who self-neglect -- meaning they just don't take care of their daily needs, such as eating or bathing -- have a nearly sixfold increased risk for death, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
What's more, if someone else is abusing a senior, their chances of dying are twice that of someone who is not abused, the study found.
"This degree of mortality risk is usually reserved for acute conditions, like an acute heart attack or stroke, and these findings really emphasize the importance of reporting abuse and self-neglect as well as the need to respond promptly with social service and medical intervention and prevention," Dr. XinQi Dong, an associate professor of medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and a co-author of the study, told HealthDay.
"Elder self-neglect and abuse really have severe consequences," he added.
Signs of elder self-neglect include a lack of food or basic utilities (heat or electricity), skipping medications, hoarding garbage or animals, poor hygiene, ill-managed finances, isolation and, possibly, alcohol or drug dependence, according to the U.S. National Center on Elder Abuse.
Elder self-neglect is a common problem and is often the reason that people are referred to adult protective services, according to an editorial that accompanied publication of the study.
Signs of elder abuse aren't always easy to see. Obviously any injury that doesn't seem to fit with the explanation given for the injury should be treated with suspicion. Slap marks, burns or a pressure mark, like someone gripped too hard, are possible signs of physical abuse. Bruising around the breasts or genitals may indicate sexual abuse, according to the elder abuse center.
But the abuse can also be emotional. If an elderly person suddenly withdraws from activities or seems to be acting strangely, they may be being abused.
Dong's study included data on nearly 10,000 Chicago residents older than 65. In a 12-year period, social services were requested for 1,544 participants because of self-neglect, and another 113 had been abused. During the study, 4,306 people died.
In the year after elder abuse was reported, the person was twice as likely to die as someone who hadn't been abused. And, for those who self-neglected, the risk for dying was 5.82 times higher during the year after the report of self-neglect.
"It's not just the cognitively impaired" who are affected, Dong said. "Even more capable seniors face a higher risk of premature death from self-neglect."
Karin Ouchida, medical director of the Montefiore Medical Center Home Health Agency in New York City, told HealthDay that "whether it was some decline in medical function that led to self-neglecting behavior, or the other way around, these people are in crisis, and social services and medical services need to have more communication and interaction."
"The situation is kind of grim right now," she said. "The population is going to get larger, and the population of people armed to care for them is getting smaller. I think this study really raises a red flag."
On the Web
To learn more about spotting the mistreatment of elders, visit the American Geriatrics Society.
SOURCES: HealthDay News; XinQi Dong, M.D., associate professor, medicine, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Karin Ouchida, M.D., assistant professor, medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, and medical director, Montefiore Medical Center Home Health Agency, New York City; Aug. 5, 2009, Journal of the American Medical Association; National Center on Elder Abuse (www.ncea.aoa.gov)
Author: Serena Gordon
Publication Date: Sept. 30, 2010
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