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Striking a Balance

Elderly people who are frightened and confused are often stereotyped and, consequently, not listened to when they complain. While many elderly individuals may indeed be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions that affect brain functions, (a series of small and apparently insignificant strokes, for example, can affect cognitive skills and memory), others may merely be suffering from the effects of over or under medication. Spouses, children, and caregivers need to understand this and be willing to help determine the cause of confusion, mood swings, or memory loss. Local agencies provide support and counseling for caregivers, especially first-time caregivers who have no understanding of how to take care of a frail elderly person. APS agencies may have information on community programs, so may local hospitals or senior citizen recreation centers. Educating caregivers helps those whose frustration might push them over an unacceptable edge to know how and when to step back and reevaluate their actions before they become abusive.

For those whose abusive tendencies are more deeply rooted, any help that can be given to them is a step in the right direction. That said, people who for whatever reason cannot be trusted to care prop-erly for an elderly person should not be allowed to do so. If they violate the law through their abuse, they must be dealt with. So should those who are motivated not by deep-seated problems but rather such base instincts as greed (those who try to exert control over an elderly person’s finances, for example).

When an elderly person complains of abuse, he or she should be listened to. For those who are being abused but cannot or will not admit it, they, too, must be listened to, in the chance that they might say something that backs up suspicions of abuse. Elderly people need to feel that they are taken seriously. Community service providers who can develop a feeling of trust with them will be providing an invaluable service.

As for those elderly who suffer from self-neglect, if it turns out that they are truly unable to care for themselves, their advocates must ensure that anyone who seeks a power of attorney or conservatorship is acting in the individual’s best interest.

Inside Striking a Balance