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Senior Citizens Learn How To Protect Themselves, Sometimes From Each Other

Published: October 6, 2017

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and keep an eye on each other.

Those were two of the recurring messages delivered by speakers during “Shades of Purple,” Newtown Senior Center’s TRIAD presentation on September 29.

Director of Senior Services Marilyn Place on Monday, October 2, said that 68 people attended the program, which closed National Senior Center Month: Master of Aging at the Riverside Road facility.

“It was standing room only,” she said. “If we can help even four or five people, that’s what it’s about.”

TRIAD is a coalition of business, police officers, senior citizens, and other volunteers working together to make a safer community for senior citizens. Newtown became the 11th town in Connecticut to begin a collaboration with local law enforcement to create that safer community when it launched its TRIAD program in 2003. Today the local network includes members of the town’s volunteer ambulance corps, the director of emergency communications, the director of Social Services, a representative from the state Department of Protective Services for the Elderly, a licensed clinical social worker, and the town’s director of health, among others.

Friday’s program focused on elder abuse.

“We’re trying to tap into something different, because we’re dealing with it now,” Ms Place told The Newtown Bee on October 2. “There’s all kinds of things out there – bullyism, dementia, fraud, scams. We deal with this on a daily basis. They have to start treating each other a little better. It starts at home.”

In her opening remarks a few days earlier, Ms Place said that the subject should be recognized “as an increasing and very serious problem in our society. As elders grow more physically frail, decline with cognitive functioning and other vulnerabilities such as difficulty with mobility, isolation, medication, and dependence, older adults can become victims.”

She offered an additional point of caution, though.

“Bullies aren’t normally what you think about when we think about the elderly,” Ms Place said. “Most of us have an image of a kindly grandmothers and grandfathers, but expert in the field say there are many reasons why older people become bullies. As people age, they become frail, which makes them feel very vulnerable. Some people become destructive or lash out because they feel insecure.”

Whatever the reason, and whichever side of that fence local elderly residents find themselves, Ms Place was hoping that Friday’s program would help anyone who needed it.

Each guest speaker offered a brief introduction to their organization or department.

Newtown Police Captain Christopher Vanghele told those in attendance that families often spend a lot of time together, “and unfortunately sometimes they hurt each other.”

In his remarks, Capt Vanghele described domestic violence as “events that happen within the four walls of the home.”

Capt Vanghele also said that he knows it is not an easy decision to call the police, to ask for help, when things are not going well within one’s home.

“This call will be the toughest call you will ever have to make,” he said, “but I promise you, it will be the best one you ever make.”

The police captain shared handouts with the group, with descriptions of different types of abuse, and phone numbers and other contact information, including confidential sources. He encouraged them all to do some reading.

“Look into assistance,” he said.

Newtown Police Officer Maryhelen McCarthy, who introduced many of the speakers, reminded those gathered for the program that police officers do not look down on people when they reach out for help.

“We do not judge you, and you do not have to tell your neighbors why we showed up at your house,” she said.

“We will never tell your neighbors anything,” she added, before sharing a few suggestions for those who may have nosy neighbors. “Tell them you misdialed, and hit 911 when you meant to dial 914 to start a phone number for someone in New York,” she offered as deflection.


Safety Tips

Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps member Liz Cain offered a few safety tips. Many of the calls that go in to the town’s dispatch center, where Ms Cain works, are for people who have fallen in their homes.

Getting rid of throw rugs, which can curl up and trip someone, and walking or doing balance exercises are all helpful, she said. Using a cane or walker when one becomes needed is imperative, she added.

“Exercise, walking, a good diet, good sleep, it will all help you from having to call us,” Ms Cain said.

Conversely, she said, the elderly “should never be afraid, or embarrassed to call us,” she added. “Calling an ambulance does not automatically mean a ride to the hospital.”

NVAC crews will often respond to a help someone who has fallen and simply needs a lift assist. If a patient is checked and deemed to be safe beyond that, EMTs do not need to take them to a hospital.

NVAC members can also help senior citizens fill out, or even update, File of Life forms. Palm-size plastic pockets hold forms filled out by those who want to help first responders quickly obtain their medical history, support needs, and emergency contact information. Magnets on the back of plastic pockets allow them to be placed on the exterior of a refrigerator, which is where first responders will look for them if a patient is unable to respond to questions.

“How many times have you filled one of these out,” Ms Place said, holding up one of the packets, “and then your doctor goes and changes all of your medications?”

A number of people nodded, and smiled, apparently having gone through exactly that.

Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert reminded attendees that agencies work together when it comes to protecting residents.

She also reminded the afternoon’s guests that they need to speak up if something is wrong in their lives, if they need help.

“Call 911 when you need help,” she said. “We can do a lot when we know about something. When there is silence, we don’t know who or how to help.”

Newtown Center for Support and Wellness Director Jennifer Crane echoed Ms Culbert’s presentation when she mentioned town agencies working together. “We are looking for fill gaps in what isn’t currently available in this community,” she said of herself and other CSW staff members.

“We can get people connected to the right resources,” she said of her agency, which opened in March 2016 and is still working to let residents know of its existence. Ms Crane invited people to contact her if they are in an organization that has not yet had her visit.

In her brief presentation, Ms Crane also addressed verbal abuse.

“It’s very difficult to see that kind of abuse,” she said, “because you’re not always in someone’s home. But if you see people withdrawing, or suddenly saying they can’t do things because of someone else, that could be a sign.

“If someone stops showing up here, that could be something,” she continued. “It’s a tight-knit group here. You know each other. If someone starts withdrawing, that may be the time to start worrying about them.”

CSW, she told the group, keeps everything confidential. “We’re here for you, and your health and wellness,” Ms Crane said.

Speakers on Friday also included Esma Ajruli, from the Connecticut Protective Services for the Elderly; Angela DeLeon, People’s United Bank state coordinator of CT TRIAD; Arthur Gottlieb, LCSW; Ann LoBosco, director of Newtown Social Services; and Maureen Will, director of Newtown Emergency Communications Center.

In closing the presentations, Ms Place remarked that “overall effectiveness in protecting the elderly and those with dementia [comes] through collaboration with the police, Senior Services, Social Services, social workers, and business communities. Communications with adult protective service workers, emergency and medical personnel can help identify and respond to crime.

“Moreover, by sharing responsibilities and working together we are pooling resources to provide better service to our senior community,” she said. 

Even with each speaker keeping their remarks brief, the presentations lasted for nearly two hours. The senior center had blocked out three hours for “Shades of Purple,” which concluded with questions from the audience, and refreshments.



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