Elder Self-Neglect and the Justice System: An Essay from an Interdisciplinary Perspective


  • The presentation on which this essay is based was given while the author was Coordinator of the Elder Justice and Nursing Home Initiative, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC.

Address correspondence to Marie-Therese Connolly, JD, Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20004. E-mail: marie.connolly@wilsoncenter.org


Elder self-neglect is a complex issue for the legal system—one not always easily distinguished from other types of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The issue inherently implicates several disciplines, and although self-neglect is not prosecuted per se, prosecutions of other types of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation may affect self-neglect as well. In addition, other types of legal intervention, such as guardianship actions, may serve to protect vulnerable older people, but it is critical to ensure that such interventions do not inappropriately infringe on the older person's civil liberties or result in exploitation or worse. There are daunting challenges to doing work in this field—death; ageism; medical, legal, and ethical complexities; and a chronic paucity of funding. It is nevertheless imperative that researchers expand their efforts to elucidate the nature and scope of elder self-neglect; its interplay with other forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation; and the most effective mechanisms for intervention and prevention. Such efforts, and in particular interdisciplinary approaches to these common problems, are critical to improving care for the nation's older people and assisting millions of families and practitioners.