Elderly relatives need attention this holiday season

When home for the holidays, ask elderly loved ones what they might need

November 27, 2012

For many, the holidays offer a once-a-year opportunity to visit with distant elderly relatives. Unfortunately, most people don’t make the best use of this precious time. Dr. Laura Mosqueda says holiday visits are a good time to assess elderly loved ones’ care and assistance needs.

“Older adults are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Whether a senior lives alone or is being cared for by others, the potential for self-neglect or abuse is there,” says Mosqueda, chair of the UCI School of Medicine's Department of Family Medicine, and director of geriatrics and the Center of Excellence in Elder Abuse and Neglect. “It is more likely to become an issue if you fail to recognize warning signs early, so use your time wisely with loved ones this holiday season.”

While there are no official statistics on how many older Americans are being abused, neglected or exploited, the National Center for Elder Abuse estimates that between 1 million and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited or mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.

This also includes family members,” says Mosqueda. “What surprises people the most is that 75 percent to 90 percent of elder abuse is committed by someone in the family. If you’re concerned about this, encourage open communication. It’ll be easier for someone to express concerns with someone they trust.”

The physicians at the Center of Excellence in Elder Abuse and Neglect, board certified in geriatrics, recommend spending time with older loved ones individually or in private to discuss current circumstances and plan for the future. Mosqueda and her colleagues have compiled a checklist to help families prevent elder abuse and neglect, and offer seniors a healthy and safe New Year:

  • Check to see if loved ones need help with housekeeping or personal care. Older adults may neglect their personal hygiene, laundry and meal preparations. If they live alone, they may suffer from self-neglect or malnutrition.
  • Inquire about finances and correspondence. Make sure mail is received regularly and bills are being paid on time. Watch for recent changes in banking or spending patterns.
  • Check on medical appointments and medications. Older adults need routine check-ups to maintain overall wellness. Don’t ignore problems with eyesight, hearing, teeth or digestion.
  • Make sure you visit long enough to notice signs of depression or loneliness. Allow loved ones time to express anxieties.
  • Allow enough time to accomplish tasks, which may include a visit to the local aging service organization or doctor for a full medical evaluation.
  • Introduce yourself to responsible neighbors and friends. Give them your address and phone numbers in case of an emergency.
  • If your older adult lives with someone or is dependent on that person for care, reexamine that person’s fitness to be a caregiver. Be sure the caregiver is not financially dependent on the older person.
  • Look for unexplained bruises, cuts or bedsores (pressure sores from lying in one place for too long). The presence of any of these could indicate abuse or neglect.

Seniors may not be aware of their needs or may be in denial. Some might also feel reluctant to accept help, but your support and guidance is imperative. Mosqueda believes that quality time spent with an older adult can help prevent serious accidents, dangerous situations and future health complications. She also reassures frustrated family members who care for aging parents.

“Noticing and correcting problems can help keep older adults safe, healthy and happy. Remember that a caregiver should never isolate family members or make them feel unwanted,” explains Mosqueda, who holds the Ronald W. Reagan Endowed Chair in Geriatrics. “If this is the case, ask your elderly loved one if they are afraid of anyone; if anyone is taking things without their permission; if anyone is asking them to do things that make them uncomfortable; or if anyone is putting them down.”

If you suspect your older loved one is at risk, call your local Adult Protective Service or Office on Aging or go to www.centeronelderabuse.org for more information. To make an appointment with a UCI Health physician, call 714-456-7007.

About UCI Healthcare: The clinical entity of the University of California, Irvine, UCI Health comprises UCI Medical Center in Orange and University Physicians & Surgeons, a faculty practice organization of more than 400 specialty and primary care physicians.  UCI Medical Center is Orange County’s only university hospital, Level I trauma center and regional burn center. For 12 consecutive years U.S. News & World Report has listed UC Irvine among America’s Best Hospitals, giving special recognition to its urology, gynecology, kidney disorders and cancer programs. In 2012, U.S. News recognized UC Irvine’s Program Geriatrics as one of the top such programs in the country.

About the Center of Excellence in Elder Abuse and Neglect: The Center of Excellence in Elder Abuse and Neglect at University of California, Irvine School of Medicine provides training, advocacy and direct services on the issue of elder abuse and neglect. The center serves as a central source of technical assistance, best practice information, multidisciplinary training, useful research, and relevant policy issues in California. For more information, visit www.centeronelderabuse.org.

Originally posted: Dec. 18, 2007


John Murray

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