Conceptual challenges and practical approaches to screening capacity for self-care and protection in vulnerable older adults

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2008 Nov;56 Suppl 2(0 2):S266-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2008.01979.x.


Identifying impairments in the capacity to make and execute decisions is critical to the assessment and remediation of elder self-neglect. Few capacity assessment tools are available for use outside of healthcare settings, and none have been validated in the context of elder self-neglect. Health and social services professionals are in need of validated tools to assess capacity for self-care and self-protection (SC&P) during initial evaluations of older adults with suspected self-neglect syndrome. Currently, legal and medical declarations of incapacity and guardianship rely on clinical evaluations and instruments developed to assess only decision-making capacity. This article first describes the conceptual and methodological challenges to assessing the capacity to make and execute decisions regarding safe and independent living. Second, the article describes the pragmatic obstacles to developing a screening tool for the capacity for SC&P. Finally, the article outlines the process for validation and field testing of the screening tool. Social services professionals can then use a valid and feasible screening tool during field assessments to screen for potential impairments in the capacity for SC&P in vulnerable older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Elder Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Elder Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / organization & administration*
  • Self Care / methods
  • United States
  • Vulnerable Populations / statistics & numerical data*