Monday, January 5, 2009

Frail Elderly Vulnerable to Abuse

An article written by Andrew Conte and Mike Cronin and published in the Tribune-Review explains how seniors are vulnerable to abuse.

The article states:
Police said one was beaten and tormented, another was duct-taped and kidnapped, and that a third wandered off alone and died in the cold after getting stuck outside.

Each of the women in these recent incidents was older than 85, placing them among the region's fastest-growing population segment -- and, experts said, among its most vulnerable.

"The key statistic is the number of people over 85," said Kurt Emmerling, bureau chief of advocacy, protection and care management with the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging. "They are the people abused the most, who are the most fragile."

Western Pennsylvania has one of the nation's highest proportions of seniors, and as they age into twilight, social workers and others say the region's oldest residents need more help and protection than ever.

Statewide, the number of Pennsylvanians who are 85 or older has grown by more than 27 percent, to more than 300,000 people since 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state ranks fifth in terms of its percentage of residents older than 85.

Western Pennsylvania has fueled much of that growth. Allegheny County's population of the oldest seniors increased by more than a quarter, to 35,000 residents. It has risen even more rapidly in nearby counties such as Washington, 35 percent; Beaver, 34 percent; and Westmoreland, 32 percent.

"A lot more people 85 and above are more vulnerable," said Michelle Smart, director of protective services for Ursuline Senior Services, which has county contracts to care for the elderly. "It could be because of their medical condition or their mental status, or it could be a lack of support."
The article advocates for the establishment of support networks for seniors. Even when seniors live in nursing or retirement homes, there is a need for support networks to protect them.

The article states:
Even when a patient is in a care facility such as a nursing home or hospital, they still need a support network of family and friends, experts said.

"When you have a patient in a nursing home, the best way for them to have the best care is to have family members who are involved," said Dr. Edward C. Watters III, a Maryland ophthalmologist who wrote a book on the experience of helping care for his mother in a nursing home. "That means going in, asking questions, looking under sheets and seeing what they say."

Nationwide, federal inspectors cited deficiencies in more than 91 percent of nursing homes surveyed in 2005, 2006 and 2007, according to a September report by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

About 17 percent of the 15,000 nursing homes surveyed in 2007 had a deficiency that posed "actual harm or immediate jeopardy" to patients, the report found. Surveys were unannounced and occurred at random hours.
The article promotes the good work of a group called SeniorCare. The article states:
Respect is the key to properly caring for seniors who need help, said Paul Winkler, president and CEO of Presbyterian SeniorCare based in Oakmont.

The nonprofit serves 6,000 people in nine Western Pennsylvania counties with nursing care, assisted living and retirement communities. To avoid the possibility of abuse or neglect, SeniorCare looks for applicants who are "special people who have a passion, and compassion, for seniors," Winkler said. And then they undergo vigorous reviews.

With an open-door policy, SeniorCare encourages families to visit loved ones at any time -- not just during set hours, Winkler said. Families considering SeniorCare for a relative can visit several times to observe interactions between staff and clients.

Top administrators at nursing homes can lessen the chances abuse will occur by setting a tone of compassion and respect, said Larry Frolik, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association elder law section.

"I don't think many people take a job because they want to abuse the elderly," he said. "But they take these jobs and find it's so easy to get away with it, or it's frustrating."
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has promoted the concept of compassionate community care since its inception. We need to protect seniors and other vulnerable people in our communities.

The article concludes by stating:
"If you have a very old person living without a spouse or partner, they're very vulnerable," he said. "They need to find a supporting network for themselves."
Our culture needs to take heed and build the necessary support networks in order to protect the most vulnerable in our community, especially now that people are promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide for those who have become "Tired of Living". Many people will become "Tired of Living" if the people surrounding them view their lives as a burden and not as someone who is worthy of care.

Link to the article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

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