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June 7, 2012

Linda Pearce - The Plight of the Elderly

Linda Pearce - The plight of the elderly
By Linda Pearce
June 6, 2012
For the StarNews

Those of us in the business of providing care for the elderly in our community are not shocked by recent articles about elder abuse and neglect. We have several epidemics in our country, but one not often talked about is the plight of the elderly among us.
Growing old can be a challenge at best. The most fortunate elderly have a loving family who dote on them; take them into their homes, if necessary, and provide care as long as it is needed.
For many people, it doesn't quite work that way. Our society is designed for those who can keep up. If anything happens in your life – physically, mentally or economically – to change your norm, you're apt to be in big trouble. To have support from within the family is utopia, but to navigate the system by oneself challenges even those of us who think we know the system.
Neglect becomes a constant companion as many older people try to fend for themselves, often with a diminished mental capacity. With adult children living long distances away, neighbors not knowing each other and churches expected to do more and more with less funds coming in from their congregations, the situation becomes fairly predictable – sometimes with deadly consequences.
Our region has historically been fairly progressive with fine senior centers, adult day care, congregate meal sites, a strong – albeit insufficient – Meals on Wheels program, all kinds of facilities of long term care, elderly ombudsmen, housing for the elderly and a strong volunteer community to provide the extra hands that a family needs. With all of this, caregivers still struggle under the weight of care for their love ones.
Our decision-makers in the state need to realize the very real consequences of making decisions based solely on fiscal deficits. We must be creative in finding ways to support businesses and nonprofits that are helping the most vulnerable among us. There is no easy fix, but trying to connect elderly persons who have issues with programs that can help is a start.
Elderhaus' board grabbed an opportunity to be one of four pilots in the state that allows caregivers to get a much-needed break by reserving an overnight bed, in advance, for their elderly relative. The senior may stay up to 14 nights at a time to allow caregivers to replenish themselves or to get away for a vacation for themselves which, ultimately, results in better care for their loved ones.
Caregivers who need temporary breaks may avail themselves of this unique opportunity. This opportunity also addresses what one does with their loved one if the caregivers, themselves, are ill or need a short overnight hospital stay. This can send a family in a tailspin which often spells neglect for the elderly family member who is faced with caring for himself or herself short-term.

I hope families will see that caring for their elderly loved ones does not have to mean they have to give up all their time and energy. If  you are a caregiver, share your needs so that other family members, friends, neighbors, churches and organizations may attempt to fill them.
Folks just need to know how to help. Be specific and you'll be surprised how many are willing to help.
It is my hope that all of us who know families who are struggling in their caring for the elderly will stretch just a little and do what we can to help these unsung heroes in our communities.
Our country's track record is dismal when compared to many other countries in the world. We need to do better. Thank you to all who volunteer, minister, serve on boards, give donations and support all of us. We do need and appreciate it. Come on. We can do this, people!
Linda Pearce is founder and executive director of Elderhaus, an adult day care program.

 SOURCE:       The StarNewsOnline
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