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September 26, 2007

Vulnerable Elders: When It Is No Longer Safe to Live Alone

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, University of Texas Houston Science Center, Houston.

JAMA. 2007;298(12):1448-1450. doi:10.1001/jama.298.12.1448

In 2004, state-level adult protective service agencies across the United States received more than 600 000 reports of elders who were in need of protection.1 The New York City Department of Aging estimates 50 000 cases of elder mistreatment in the boroughs, even though only 1600 instances are reported.2 Some elders experience physical abuse, caregiver neglect, and financial exploitation, but the most common report to adult protective service agencies in the United States is self-neglect, a syndrome that afflicts vulnerable older adults who are not able to meet basic needs.2,3 Self-neglect, often discounted as a harmless peculiarity of old age, is actually an independent risk factor for early death.3 Elders neglecting themselves usually live alone. They display behaviors such as piling garbage inside the home, allowing food to spoil, failing to maintain utilities in the home, ignoring serious medical issues, and even lying in their own excrement. In most jurisdictions, elder self-neglect is a reportable form of elder mistreatment, as are physical abuse, caregiver neglect, and financial exploitation.4

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