New tool could help families check on older loved ones over the holidays

As families come together over the holidays, it’s the perfect time to check if older loved ones are looking after themselves throughout the rest of the year. And a new study shows a tool developed by Rutgers University’s Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research (IFH) could help.

“We found that it’s not always possible for health care providers to visit older adults who may be at risk of self-neglect, however, in-home assessment is the standard screening method,” said lead researcher and IFH Director Dr. XinQi Dong, MD, MPH. “A better solution is to provide health care providers, aging professionals and others who already interact with older adults frequently, a brief tool to quantify self-neglect risks without the need for formal in-home visits.”

Self-neglect is a serious and growing problem that studies show is associated with increased rates of illness, unnecessary hospitalizations, and premature death. Self-neglect is the most commonly reported and substantiated type of elder abuse in the United States, according to adult protective services agencies. Moreover, prior research suggests older adults who self-neglect also are more likely to be victims of psychological, physical and sexual abuse, as well as financial exploitation.

The study, published this month in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, showed the tool was able to accurately predict whether older adults living in the community might be neglecting themselves, first author Bei Wang, MPH, explained. The tool consists of 10 questions and takes only a few minutes to complete.

The researchers used data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) to identify factors that were predictive of self-neglect, such as hypertension, wearing a hearing aid, and the use of aspirin, and then developed the questions in the tool based on those factors. The study focused on non-Hispanic black and white older adults living in three neighborhoods in Chicago.

“With further studies and analyses focusing on different populations, particularly under-represented minorities, this tool could improve treatment for at-risk older adults and help to prevent self-neglect,” Wang said.