ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
You might be the one who saves an elderly neighbor simply by being aware, say Marion County officials who work with the elderly.
An older person can be sinking into a situation where they can’t take care of themselves any longer. In this day and age, a senior’s adult children may not be aware of the problem.
Noreen Weems, director of the Marion County Department for the Elderly, said a great number of elderly persons live in this area and have no grown children or family living nearby.
Frequently, the elderly person’s absentee family is unaware of the situation, or resists the idea that the situation has changed, Weems said.
“They may say, ‘No, that’s just the way they want to live-they’re just fine,” Weems said.
Fortunately, Weems also sees the other side of absentee-family involvement.
“We appreciate it when the children or family calls to check on their relative, or even sends meal tickets for them.
“Some will ask us to see what more they can do to help their father or mother, or sometimes, their aunt or uncle. Sometimes it’s only a matter of them being made aware of the situation.”
Unfortunately, the situation occasionally become painful or tragic before anyone thinks to check on an elderly person.
Weems said she often becomes involved with local authorities, including law enforcement, when a neighbor finally realizes an elderly person hasn’t been seen for a while.
Sometimes the authorities find that person has fallen and has laid there in a state of pain. Sometimes the person is already dead, Weems said.
A county church worker, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity involved, has developed a list of things people can do to protect the welfare of an elderly neighbor or acquaintance.
The primary suggestion is that neighbors and friends of the elderly person simply be observant.
“If they are still driving, watch for dings on their car, a lot of dents,” she said. “They may need to give up driving, and they may need help.
“Notice if they change clothes when they should, and if they are as clean as they always have been.”
Sometimes smell is an indicator, she added, such as an odor of urine.
The church worker suggested that people take note when a home or yard that has always been taken care of suddenly falls into disrepair.
“If you go to their door, or inside, try to be conscious of whether their home is as clean as it’s always been,” the worker said.
“It is common for the elderly entering dementia to hide things and not be able to find them. They also can become paranoid. They may think other people are stealing things when they hid them themselves. This usually goes from bad to worse.
“Sometimes people are able to step in to take care of their parents or relatives themselves. They are able to quit jobs or put their own lives on hold. But many people can’t do this even if they want to.
“If it comes to the point a rest home is needed, it can be a good and useful place instead of something to fear.
“A true ministry meets people at their point of need, and listens to them. The best rest homes are able to do this. Their employees have more of a ministry to the elderly. The nurses and (certified nurse aides) who work there are dedicated and hard working to do the job they are supposed to.”
Weems said an increasing number of Marion County senior citizens are caring for grandchildren, or having children and grandchildren move back in with them.
“This can be a blessing or a problem, according to how well structured and secure the young people are,” she said.
Weems said early dementia usually involves memory loss. For instance, the person may even forget to eat. On the other hand, the same person may ask when it’s going to be time to eat after they just did.
Weems said persons paranoid with dementia may become withdrawn, not wanting to answer their door. Their home may go for days with the shades drawn shut. They often can be depressed or despondent, she said.
Weems said she knows a person needs help when senior citizen volunteers notice it.
“They’ll tell us so-and-so isn’t looking so good. Or, so-and-so won’t answer their door.”
Recently, a senior volunteer delivering a meal to a home noticed the interior felt extremely hot when she stepped inside.
Weems said it is true that some senior citizens can’t take a lot of air conditioning, perhaps because of arthritis and aching joints. But sometimes they are needing a fan, or they have had utilities cut off or are afraid they can’t afford to turn them on.
In cold weather, she said, the elderly sometimes may be too cold, and are found already suffering from hyperthermia.
Weems said she is acquainted with the situations where Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services needs to be called in to see to the needs of the elderly.
The elderly often fear this as a final loss of freedom, but they shouldn’t, Weems said. SRS help may even be the way for an elderly person to maintain freedom, she said.
The SRS process-or any of the other programs designed to help the elderly-purposely moves slowly to avoid an abrupt change in a person’s life.
“They may come to a person’s home just to get acquainted,” Weems said. “They try to listen with their hearts to the deep needs of the person. They help family become involved.
“We are often called on to follow up with people. We try to help them where they are, not go in, and make life changes for them.”
Weems said the county’s senior centers offer “friends and fellowship” for the elderly who want to participate. Transportation services also are available for trips to the bank, grocery store, pharmacy, or to see loved ones.
Weems said her agency can work with doctors and pharmacies to complete a person’s correct medical papers and deliver pharmaceuticals. The agency also can help with utility relief.
Weems and her helpers assist the elderly with paperwork for benefits. She said they see to it that the papers “are mailed today” rather than take a chance the person will lose them.
Staff can help them seek food aid at existing food banks or through ministerial alliances in Burns, Marion, Hillsboro, Goessel and Peabody.
One of the more familiar programs offered is Meals on Wheels, which delivers senior-center meals to private homes for those who find it difficult to get around.
Weems said nourishment and fellowship are sometimes just what the elderly person needed.