“Situational awareness” is the term used by Navy Seals and others to describe being tuned in to your surroundings, especially potential threats to your person. People who are “situationally aware” don’t get ambushed nearly as often as those people who aren’t paying attention, at least so the theory goes.
You will most likely be spending a great deal of time over the next couple of months with older relatives, some who you have not seen since this time last year. It is time to practice your situational awareness! No, your aging loved ones aren’t threats to you. This time you are tuning in to threats to them. Many seniors need help recognizing dangers to themselves. They don’t realize for example, that the Nigerian Prince who is emailing them about sharing millions of dollars with them is a con man! They don’t realize that the Publisher’s Clearinghouse won’t be awarding them anything. They might not even realize that the sweet woman serving as their caregiver is stealing from them!
This holiday season try practicing your situational awareness to protect your aging loved ones. It could mean the difference between them being able to afford to take care of themselves for the rest of their life or not!
Here are some common things to look out for:
How do they look? Physically, are there any bruises on the wrists, forearms, knees, shins etc? Are they still able to walk without assistance? Are falls a new risk? Are there signs that anyone is mistreating them by grabbing their arms and causing bruising? Any new facial lacerations?
How do they smell? Many people with advancing dementia lose their sense of smell and their incentive to take a shower. The “smell test” is very real and very accurate!
How are they dressed? Are they still following the same grooming habits you remember?
How do they sound? Are they still able to carry on a conversation? Is their memory still good? Has their hearing deteriorated? Are they engaged in the conversation? Do they seem more pessimistic? Bitter? Withdrawn?
Do they have anyone new in their life? Many seniors who are alone are easy targets for people who befriend them merely to find a meal-ticket. If there is a new friend, it may be time to do some further detective work, to gauge this person’s intentions.
If visiting in their house, do you notice bills and mail stacking up? Is the home as clean as usual? Are the normal things being done- light bulbs being replaced, dishes done, clothing put away? Is their car showing any new scrapes, dents or signs of damage? Are there any new medical devices (ramps, walkers, canes, etc) evident? If so, be nosy and ask about the circumstances.
If visiting them in a hospital or nursing-home, many seniors like being under covers in bed and if not in bed, this time of year, being cold, they are often dressed head to toe. You cannot see signs of physical abuse or bedsores unless you can get them up and out of bed, so your job will be to get them walking or at least, up. Ask them if they have any new injuries or complaints. People like to talk about their ailments, so let them. We call that an organ recital.
Tell them a story. President Reagan once said that you should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Casually mention that someone you know is having to jump through all sorts of hoops to help one of their aging loved ones who was taken advantage of by someone in their family. He/she learned too late that their loved one was in trouble. Mention that the loved one was embarrassed and ashamed that they were victimized and didn’t want to be a bother to anyone, but that only made the problem worse. See how they respond.
The fact is that elder abuse is epidemic in our society. Chances are someone in your family is already a victim, but they don’t have to remain a victim. With your help, you might be able to protect them AND stop the victimizer from doing more damage.
We are here to help too. Call us if you see any signs that make you suspicious that elder abuse is occurring.
William G. Nolan
The Alabama Elder Care Law Firm, LLC
Mountain Brook, AL