A U.S. study has indicated that nearly one half of all officially investigated elder abuse cases—and two thirds of neglect cases—involve self-neglect. In fact, self-neglect may be the most common form of abuse among seniors.

Self-neglect occurs when, by choice or lack of awareness, seniors and people with disabilities live in ways that disregard their health or safety needs, sometimes to the extent that this disregard becomes hazardous to others. For example, a person may choose to let clutter build up, which is not necessarily harmful to others. However, if a fire starts because of this clutter and spreads to a neighbor's apartment, this self-neglectful behavior is clearly a danger to others.

Seniors and people with disabilities who neglect themselves are not willing or able to perform essential self-care tasks such as providing food, clothing, or adequate shelter; obtaining adequate medical care; obtaining goods and services necessary to maintain physical and mental health, well-being, personal hygiene and general safety and managing financial affairs.

Seniors and people with disabilities who neglect themselves usually have certain characteristics. They are more likely to live alone. They are also more likely to suffer from mental or physical illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, decreased physical ability, and alcohol and drug problems. More women than men neglect themselves, but this may be because more women than men live alone.