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How is self-neglect considered elder abuse?

It can be devastating to discover that your elder relative has lost the mental or physical will or capacity to care for themselves, and has been deteriorating in condition without supervision. Yet when an elderly person neglects themselves, this is actually considered a form of elder abuse under New York State law. How, when no one is abusing them but themselves?

The New York State Office for the Aging defines elder abuse as any instance of physical, mental, emotional, financial or sexual abuse, exploitation or neglect, including self-neglect. How this qualifies as “abuse” and who is at fault can be tricky to evaluate. If an elderly person who was formerly in good mental and physical health suddenly begins to neglect themselves with no early warning indicators that anyone around them may notice, it may be defined as abuse but it may not be a matter of fault.

However, if those responsible for your elderly relative’s general care and well-being are aware of his or her lack of capacity and do not take provisions to support the person in question with appropriate care, allowing them to neglect themselves is also a form of negligence. If the person is not able to care for themselves, it is possible that those in the household may be accountable for knowingly allowing him or her to come to harm through neglect or self-injury.

This blog post has been provided for reference purposes only, and may stand as an educational resource but should not be used as a substitute for legal advice.

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