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Unhealthy, Alone, Many Older People 'Self-Neglect'

Getting them social services can be a real challenge, experts say

FRIDAY, Aug. 10, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults left on their own to struggle with medical problems, such as depression and heart disease, often neglect their health and hygiene, a new study finds.

These older individuals have trouble managing simple physical and mental chores and are unable to carry out daily tasks such as eating and bathing, according to a study in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"We believe elders who self-neglect are those with impairment in activities of daily living, who lack the needed support services, and who fail to recognize the danger," noted Carmel Dyer, a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and colleagues.

They analyzed data from 538 people in Houston diagnosed with "self-neglect." Two-thirds of the patients had physical problems that impaired normal function, and about half scored poorly on mental health tests.

"Many patients were too impaired to complete even these basic tests; others were delirious and unable to answer, and some refused to be tested," Dyer said.

A lack of social support is key to the problem, which is widespread across the United States, Dyer's team said.

"Some elderly persons who self-neglect simply lack access to support services, whereas others either refuse help or -- when provided access to services -- cannot complete the tasks necessary to obtain them," Dyer said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discusses healthy aging for older adults.

SOURCE: Center for the Advancement of Health, news release, July 31, 2007
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