Professionals look at how to prevent self-neglect, abuse of seniors

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Crawford County social worker Jim McGrath (right) facilitates his break-out group to identify ideas about improving factors leading to self-neglect and vulnerable adult abuse. Around 25 professionals from the area health and human services sectors put their heads together to determine recommendations that could help prevent these issues. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

A thorough evaluation of self-neglect and abuse amid elderly and vulnerable adults was done June 27 during a symposium at the Crawford County Administration Building. About 25 professionals, from the health and human services sectors across Crawford and the surrounding counties, discussed the issues and determined what might be done to prevent them from enabling self-neglect and vulnerable adult abuse. A few senior citizens joined the two-hour conversation as well.

Jim McGrath, a Crawford County social worker, led the session, which started with panelists Loretta Weipert, Crossing Rivers RN; Ryan Fradette, lieutenant with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department; and Dan McWilliams, Crawford County Health and Human Services director. They addressed signs and symptoms of self-neglect, law enforcement contacts and the home environment, response considerations and self-determination. 

Then, the group talked about what neglect and abuse are and why it occurs. Self-neglect occurs when a vulnerable adult lives in a way that puts his or her health, safety or well-being at risk. Elder abuse is physical abuse, neglect, emotional or psychological abuse, verbal abuse and threats, financial abuse and exploitation, sexual abuse, abandonment or other mistreatment. Seniors can be abused, neglected and exploited often by people they trust most. Abusers may be spouses, family members, acquaintances, professionals in positions of trust or opportunistic strangers preying on the vulnerable. 

Significant factors that may reveal why this happens include physical or sensory impairment, dementia, depression, mental illness, substance abuse, addiction, fear of losing independence, spousal devotion, limited finances, living alone, pride or lack of resource awareness.

“The crisis and shortage of workers in all health care professions is another factor of the ‘silver tsunami,’” McGrath stated. 

Research indicates one in 10 elders may experience some type of abuse, but only one in five cases or fewer are reported. Abuse can occur in the home, nursing home or other institutions. It affects seniors across all socio-economic groups, cultures and races. Women and older elders are more likely to be victimized. 

Don’t assume someone else has already reported a suspicious situation. To report suspected abuse in the community, contact health and human services at 326-0248. Callers can remain anonymous when reporting concerns.

To address prevention of some of the main contributing factors, the group brainstormed during break-out sessions and then presented their findings. 

The number one, most common answer that emerged from the groups was awareness about self-neglect and abuse as well as the resources necessary to prevent and combat these issues. Suggestions were: public education about available services via local media, Facebook, mailers and by gathering at the many natural meeting places of seniors, such as coffee clutches, card clubs and other organizations. Both vulnerable adults and their family members are the target audience for this education. One participant also mentioned sharing resource information with clergy, postal workers, doctors and other frequent contacts who could potentially make referrals to them. 

“Doctors are gods to a lot of these people; they’ll do whatever they say,” one woman noted. “It might also help if [the doctors were willing to] ask them about their support system.”

In addition to services, the participants felt public enlightenment about overcoming resource obstacles, like insurance and private pay, along with spreading information about nutrition, financial assistance, powers of attorney and estate, the different types of mental illness, contact numbers, etc., would be important among the course of action. 

One woman shared an additional example that she felt would be beneficial in Crawford County. She said, the Lancaster Police Department website offers registries for Alzheimer’s/dementia as well as autism. There, she said, individuals can register their personal details voluntarily, and then if a situation occurs where that info is needed, it’s already available to law enforcement.

It was noted that Project Lifesaver bracelets are offered in Crawford County for people at risk of wandering. However, the registries may be an additional, useful process.

These were the main recommendations made at the symposium. McGrath said all the ideas will be given to Crawford County’s interdisciplinary team at its next meeting with intent of implementing some of them. 

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