An elderly diabetic smoker lounging on her couch and drinking coffee all day. I clearly remember that client and her situation, even if it was years ago. Yup she lived with her son. Her daughter, living in the neighbourhood, wanted to come in to help manage her insulin as well as bring in prepared meals. The mom said she didn’t need anything and that her son was taking care of everything. From seeing the set-up of the house and the condition of the lady I could see that not much was being taken care of in the house, nor for her health nor her well being. The well meaning daughter was shut out.

Self-neglect. At what point is self-neglect seen as abuse from the outside looking in?

That is one huge question that I deal with a lot when working with seniors.

As the gentleman whom I just spoke with, who works with seniors, so well said is that one big challenge is to help seniors who self-neglect. Yes it is. Big time. At my age, 46, it is a huge situation for myself as well as many of my friends. Perhaps an extra drink here or there, less exercise then the healthy recommended dose, too many sugars or caffeine… what point does my 46 year old self turn into an 86 year old ‘neglected person’ that everyone else should take care of….when I am not necessarily taking the best care of myself now during my most vibrant years…….?

There is such a fine line. Where does abuse start? Where does neglect start and end? If for my mom, for example, what can I do if I would love for her to take better care of herself as she becomes more isolated at home but is not interested in any help or support?  Can I force it on her? She is knowing of her situation. She can still make her on choices, just like she has her whole life. Why now should I be imposing my wishes on her? Where does that line lie? Yes I have always wanted the best for her but as a younger woman she decided and did what she wanted even though I might not have agreed with her choices. Why now should I be forcing my ways on her? Ah! judgement maybe. Maybe guilt too. If I do not go in to help perhaps I will be judged as a neglectful daughter or I ‘must’ do something to ‘save her from herself’.

So many fine lines in my field of work. So many taboos. So many layers of judgement.

All one can do is offer help. Offer assistance. Offer support. Then it is up to the person on the receiving end to receive, if they are not receptive then the offering faces a closed door.

Here is my ultimate wish. That we open up conversations regarding aging to minimize the level of judgement, reduce the amount of taboos and that we all understand that our needs throughout our whole lives are forever evolving. As individuals, no matter our age, it is for us to take care of ourselves, to nourish our relationships, to invest in our bodies the way we see fit. Yes there is sadness when someone chooses not to care for themselves. Neglect is happening all around us, at every age, but it seems like when someone is self negligent at 86 it seems that much harder to understand. Perhaps because it is also accompanied with a loss of autonomy. Their life, their choice(s). Support can be offered but it needs to be accepted on the other end for it to be let in.

As I sit back and question my ultimate goal of this blog post….self-neglect at 86 why does it look worse at 86 then at 46? It is a personal choice isn’t it? Does it sound bad for me to be saying this? On one level I think yes, but on another level I know that this is my life, my decisions and it is for me at every step to embrace my choices and for me to have an open heart to accept what is being offered to me. There should be no pity if I close the door on well meaning people who want the best for me.

Self-neglect comes in many different forms and unfortunately at 86 or 95 we see it a lot more then at 46. More fingers seem to be pointed towards an 86 year old who self-neglects, towards the individual themselves, towards the systems that ‘fail’ them, towards the less then ‘honouring’ children–perhaps that is what upsets me the most. I need to give this more thought. What are your thoughts regarding self-neglect and aging?