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When we think of elder abuse, we tend to imagine a senior being mistreated by a cruel and heartless abuser. While many elder abuse cases do involve scenarios like this, the one of the most common forms of elder abuse is self-neglect. Yes, self-neglect is a form of elder abuse. Between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, Adult Protective Services of Contra Costa County received more reports for self-neglect than it did for any of other form of elder abuse, with 2,479 allegations of self-neglect reported. The second most common form of elder abuse reported was financial abuse, with only 1,218 reports made.

What is Self-Neglect?

You’re probably wondering what self-neglect is. Self-neglect is different than other forms of elder abuse in that there is no malign third party perpetrating the abuse. Rather, self-neglect occurs when an older adult behaves in a way that threatens their own personal health and/or safety. Typically, self-neglect happens when an elder does not meet their personal needs with regards to the provision of sufficient food, shelter, water, hygiene, clothing, and medical care, including medication. Self-neglect can also occur when an older adult fails to take steps to ensure their own safety.

There are many different signs of self-neglect, including:

  • Deficient personal hygiene, including soiled clothes, being disheveled, foul smells, and untreated sores or pests
  • Refusing medication or medication mismanagement
  • Dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss
  • Drinking to excess or the use of illegal drugs
  • Inadequate food in the home
  • Untreated or unattended health conditions
  • Unclean and/or unsanitary living conditions, including hoarding or unsafe clutter
  • Unpaid bills and other signs of financial mismanagement, like bounced checks
  • Utilities that get turned off, manifested by lack of heat, water, or electricity
  • Wearing inappropriate clothing, such as a winter coat in the summer

Self-neglect is associated with higher rates of illness, hospitalization, and even early death. Many incidences of self-neglect are not reported. During the pandemic, self-neglect became even harder to detect and address as elders were isolated from friends and family. Elders who lives by themselves, those with mental impairments or dementia, and individuals with a physical disability are at a higher risk of self-neglect.

To learn more about self-neglect, check out these resources:


If you’re concerned that a friend or relative may be suffering from self-neglect, you can make a report to Adult Protective Services. Make a report to Contra Costa County Adult Protective Services by calling (877) 839-4347 or (925) 602-4179.

If an elder wants a trusted friend of family member to help manage their affairs, the elder may be able to set up a Durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive. These documents allow a person to designate a particular individual who can help make decisions and manage the person’s affairs, including healthcare, finances, bill paying, and legal matters. Contra Costa Senior Legal Services may be able to help you set up a Durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive. Call us at (925) 609-7900 to learn more.