Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Families look forward to the holidays for the opportunity to visit with relatives who live at a distance, especially parents and grandparents.
Spending time together not only offers the chance to reconnect, it is an ideal time to assess aging in older relatives and determine whether family members might need assistance or adaptations to make their lives safer and more comfortable.
Often, families don’t see their older loved ones functioning on a day-to-day basis. It is not uncommon for adult children who’ve recently seen Mom, Dad, or grandparents in person for the first time in months to be a little shocked by what they find. They’ve been completely unaware of changes to physical and mental health. Relatives, friends and neighbors come to accept the gradual decline and they fail to speak up. Now they must figure out how to help and what kind of help might be needed.
If you are visiting older relatives at their home, be watchful for warning signs of self-neglect, or abuse or neglect by others. It can be difficult to accept, but up to 90 percent of elder abuse is committed by a family members or someone the individual knows.
You do not want to look away in denial if elder abuse is occurring. But you also do not want to find yourself in the position of making false accusations. How can you tell the difference between abuse and self-neglect?
Some warning signs you should look for:
- Signs of confusion, forgetfulness, or other mental impairment.
- Individual is no longer able to handle meal preparation, house cleaning, laundry, bathing, or timely bill payment.
- Signs of depression.
- Excessive drinking or drug use (including prescription drugs).
- Frequent falls.
- Any signs of being undernourished, dehydrated, under-medicated.
Neglect/Abuse By Others:
- Presence of a new “friend” who is willing to care for the senior for little or no cost.
- Recent change in banking or spending patterns; someone added to bank accounts.
- Isolation from longtime friends or family.
- Older person is “lending” or giving money to a new friend.
- You find an abundance of mail and/or phone solicitations for money (“You’re our lucky winner!”)
- Senior seems afraid of angering their friend or caregiver.
- Unexplained bruises, cuts, presence of bedsores.
- Older person appears dirty, undernourished, dehydrated, over- or under-medicated, or is not receiving needed care for medical problems.
Be observant while you are visiting. Realize that you may need to arrange a visit to a doctor for a full evaluation. If you suspect that your loved one needs extra assistance before making your trip, plan a longer stay so that you can contact local aging service organizations.
Make the most of your visits by taking some private time with the elder to discuss future planning. Expect anxiety, fear, or signs of depression at their change in circumstances and acknowledge it. Decide together what needs to be done and who can help.
What else can you do to help your loved one?
- Introduce yourself to responsible neighbors and friends. Give them your address and phone numbers in case of an emergency.
- Ask your elderly loved ones directly if they are afraid of anyone, if anyone is taking things without their permission, if anyone is asking them to do things they are not comfortable with, or if anyone is bullying them.
- If you suspect your older loved one is at risk, call Adult Protective Services or law enforcement immediately.
Seniors may not be aware of a gradual decline and may be reluctant to accept reality, or unable to plan for needed care. They may not be aware that with just a few adaptations or minimal assistance, they can stay safely in their homes and maintain their autonomy, dignity, and independence. Checking up on warning signs of self-neglect, abuse or decline can be the most caring holiday gift of all.
UPDATE ON A PREVIOUS LIFECYCLES COLUMN: In “Stamping out elder abuse despite Jerry Brown’s veto,” I discussed the efforts of Liz Sanders to pass legislation adding a layer of protection from financial abuse for seniors and dependent adults in California. Although the legislation was passed, it was then vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. This has not stopped Liz Sanders’ mission to find ways to prevent financial elder abuse. After my column ran in Communities at Washington Times, I received a personal message from Liz. She told me about some marvelous ideas in the works including some innovative private sector solutions. Liz and I plan to work together and we will be sure to keep you updated on our progress here in the LifeCycles column.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!
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