"Whether it was some decline in medical function that led to self-neglecting behavior, or the other way around, these people are in crisis, and social services and medical services need to have more communication and interaction," she said.
Anyone who suspects that an older family member, neighbor or friend is being abused or might be self-neglecting need to report those suspicions, both Ouchida and Dong said. A sudden change in weight, hygiene, or worsening medical conditions, such as being more short of breath, are clues that people might be neglecting themselves. Abuse can be harder to detect, but any unexplained bruises or sudden change in doctors could be clues.
Financial abuse and exploitation are probably getting worse in the recession, they said. Possible signs of this can include more telephone, mail and even in-person solicitations. Or, if older people start running out of money when they never did before or things are suddenly missing from their home, they could be in trouble.
"The tragedies of elder abuse are a reflection on all of us," Don said. "It can be a difficult topic to talk about, but this study demonstrated the adverse health outcomes that can result."
The American Psychological Association has more on elder abuse and neglect.
SOURCES: XinQi Dong, M.D., associate professor, medicine, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Karin Ouchida, M.D., assistant professor, medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, and medical director, Montefiore Medical Center Home Health Agency, New York City; Aug. 5, 2009, Journal of the American Medical Association