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Staying safe

Self-neglect

Self-neglect covers a wide range of behaviours where a person neglects to attend to their basic care and support needs, such as personal hygiene, appropriate clothing, feeding or tending appropriately to any medical conditions they may have. Extreme self-neglect can be known as Diogenes syndrome.

Self-neglect may include:

  • unwillingness or inability to care for oneself or one’s environment
  • dehydration, malnutrition, untreated or improperly attended medical conditions, and poor personal hygiene
  • hazardous or unsafe living conditions / arrangements (e.g. improper wiring, no indoor plumbing, no heat, no running water)
  • unsanitary or unclean living quarters (e.g. animal / insect infestation, no functioning toilet, faecal / urine smell)
  • inappropriate and/or inadequate clothing, lack of the necessary medical aids (e.g. eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures)  
  • grossly inadequate housing or homelessness

Possible causes of self-neglect

Self-neglect can be as a result of brain injury, dementia or mental illness. It can be a result of any mental or physical illness which has an effect on the person's physical abilities, energy levels, attention, organisational skills or motivation. A decrease in motivation can also be a side effect of psychiatric medications, putting those who require them at a higher risk of self-neglect than might be caused by mental illness alone.

Behaviours and characteristics of self-neglect

The behaviours and characteristics of living with self-neglect can include:

  • unkempt personal appearance
  • hoarding items and pets
  • neglecting household maintenance
  • living in an unclean environment
  • poor personal hygiene and
  • eccentric behaviours.

Research also points to behaviours such as an unwillingness to take medication, and feelings of isolation. Some of these behaviours could be explained by functional and financial constraints, as well as personal or lifestyle choices.