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Contribution to Book
Comparing social workers' and older persons' perspectives on elder self-neglect.
Turning Troubles into Problems: Clientization in Human Services (2013)
  • Israel Doron, Prof., University of Haifa
  • Tova Band-Winterstein, Dr., University of Haifa
  • Sigal Naim, University of Haifa
In recent years there has been a growing public and professional interest in the social phenomena of "elder self neglect". From the early 1960s of the 20th century, self neglect was usually about behavioral manifestations by older persons of squalor, neglect of the home and lack of concern for personal hygiene alongside the refusal to receive assistance or support. Various professions and disciplines have started to study and explore this phenomenon and to give it different scientific "labels": "senile breakdown syndrome"; "social breakdown syndrome"; and eventually a "geriatric syndrome." The social and scientific process of labeling and transforming elder self neglect into a defined psychiatric condition, a recognized "syndrome" or a "social problem" was established within a much broader growing political and public interest in the aging of social society in general, and "elder abuse and neglect" in specific. However, as this chapter will describe, this social and professional construction of elder self neglect was conducted while the actual voice to two very distinct populations was almost unheard: The first, being the older "self neglectors" them selves; The second, being the front line social workers who were supposed to "take care" or "solve" the "problem." This chapter will depict and compare the finding of two qualitative studies that were conducted in this field. The goals of both studies were similar, but their participants were different. The first, was a phenomenological study on the subjective experience of older persons labeled as "self neglected" by local social authorities. The second, was a similar study on the experience of local social workers providing assistance and treatment to older self neglectors. Comparing the experiences, feelings, narratives and reflections of these two "opposing" populations, reveals a striking contrast. For the older self neglected persons, their personal situation is very understandable and is an integral part of a life-long narrative. For the professional social workers on the other hand, elder self neglect is an unsolved riddle, which places them in difficult personal and professional ethical dilemma. As this chapter will argue, the explanation for this gap between the two experiences and insights can be found, at least in part, in the way professions and disciplines shape their discourses. The need to be able to define, locate and situate a complex subjective social experience within known boundaries of existing objective scientific disciplinary definitions - places restrictions on society and professionals ability to fully comprehend complex human situations. The actual "subjects" themselves, on the other hand, are human beings who are able to provide – if listened to – some significant perspectives. However, these perspectives do not always fit the definitions, boundaries, and existing scientific constructions hence raising the question how indeed should society define what are social "troubles" and when do they become a "problem"?
  • Self neglect,
  • Elder Abuse
Publication Date
J. F. Gubrium & M. Jarvinen
Citation Information
Israel Doron, Tova Band-Winterstein and Sigal Naim. "Comparing social workers' and older persons' perspectives on elder self-neglect." New YorkTurning Troubles into Problems: Clientization in Human Services (2013)
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