SCIE Report 46: Self-neglect and adult safeguarding: findings from research

Published: September 2011

Review date: September 2014

This report was commissioned by the Department of Health (DH) and examines the concept of self-neglect. The relationship between self-neglect and safeguarding in the UK is a difficult one, partly because the current definition of abuse specifies harmful actions by someone other than the individual at risk. Safeguarding Adults Boards’ policies and procedures commonly contain no reference to self-neglect; occasionally they explicitly exclude it or set criteria for its inclusion.

The perceptions of people who neglect themselves have not been extensively researched, but where they have, emerging themes are pride in self-sufficiency, connectedness to place and possessions and behaviour that attempts to preserve continuity of identity and control. Traumatic histories and life-changing effects are also present in individuals’ own accounts of their situation.

Self-neglect is reported mainly as occurring in older people, although it is also associated with mental ill health. Differentiation between inability and unwillingness to care for oneself, and capacity to understand the consequences of one’s actions, are crucial determinants of response. Professional tolerance of self-neglect as lifestyle choice is higher than when it accompanies physical/mental impairment. Professionals express uncertainty about causation and intervention.

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