Looking out for seniors health | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Looking out for seniors health

Linda Hall never expected to live this long. At 71, she was diagnosed with bone cancer and given less than nine months to live. Now 75, Hall is still very much among the living, even though her body is deteriorating.

Her cancer has spread during the last four years and her bones are extremely brittle.

“My body’s had it. I want to go home,” she said, raising her voice and slyly looking up to the ceiling. “I am just afraid to get there. I only wish I knew what the traveling arrangements were.”

Hall is taking each day as it comes. She has no family, except for an elderly aunt in San Jose. She lost her husband, and 21-year-old son to a drunk driver more than 20 years ago.

Hall moved to Tahoe soon after, leaving painful reminders of her husband and son in the Bay Area. When her money ran out, she went to work at the casinos, but cancer finally forced her to quit in April 1994. That’s when Hall met social worker Terri Boldt.

“The only good thing about being broke is you meet wonderful people,” Hall said. “Now I wish I knew the same people but I wasn’t broke.”

Hall didn’t want to move into an assisted living situation, but she had no family to care for her. Her doctor alerted her to her options through In Home Supportive Services. Boldt approved Hall and found workers to come into her home and do the jobs she couldn’t.

“I can’t bend over or reach up. My bones break. I couldn’t vacuum. That would be impossible. And when I fall I’m totally immobile, and I’ve fallen twice this year,” Hall explained.

Hall said her assistants do the laundry, cooking, shopping, and take letters to the post office for her. The assistants also exercise Pepsi, Hall’s 14-year-old West Highland terrier. Hall was approved for 239 hours a month of assistance and has a helper seven days a week. The hours can fluctuate depending on need.

“I’m a very lucky lady. God has given me so much in friendships,” Hall said. “Terri is a wonderful pick-me-up. She checks in on me periodically and makes sure everything is going well with my helpers and that I have enough wood. I’m definitely well taken care of and protected. I couldn’t do it without them. I’d either have to move into a home or hospital and I don’t want to do either one.”

Protecting Seniors

Boldt’s position was created about 10 years ago. Her position is intended to be the voice and caretaker for those who can’t take care of themselves. Besides IHSS, in the last three months Boldt responded to 27 new referrals for adult protective services, which is funded by mostly state, but some county monies.

“There is abuse of seniors happens. The usual scenario is a single woman, 65 or older, living with a 45 or older alcoholic son. The senior becomes the meal ticket, and the son is often stealing his mother’s checks,” Boldt explained. “The difference between child protective services and adult is with child protective services, they don’t have to ask the child if they want to leave an abusive situation. They just take them. I have to ask.”

Boldt said some the hardest situations she deals with are seniors who unintentionally create their own terrible living situations.

“I have many horror stories of absolutely filthy living conditions. The senior is starting to lose their cognizance skills and they stop bathing and taking out the garbage. They let their animals defecate in the house and don’t clean it up. I get referrals from all over the community and from all walks of life – waitresses who notice that a regular senior customer is no longer bathing or changing their clothes,” Boldt said.

If Boldt feels the senior is no longer able to make decisions for himself or herself she can attempt to get a probate conservatorship. The senior is assigned a public defender and the arguments are heard by a judge. If Boldt succeeds in getting the conservatorship, the senior loses all decision-making power.

“It’s a long process and it takes your rights away,” Boldt said. “I’m obligated to tell the family and I have to do a search. I sometimes run into trouble with family members and children who view their parents’ belongings as their inheritance. I have children who say ‘that’s my money.’ I have to point out that it’s their parents’ money and for their care until they die, and they’re not dead yet. The health and safety of the senior is my focus,” Boldt said.

Boldt said that only about 5 percent of the calls she gets are for people who have no family to help them. Sometimes family exists, but doesn’t want to help.

“I have trouble with that, but I don’t feel it’s my job to force anyone. Some children don’t want anything to do with a parent because of a dysfunctional history. I can understand that. Some feel they can only help part time. Sometimes the seniors don’t want to burden the children,” Boldt said. “This office is here to help people go through the process and to help people help themselves.”

Boldt said she also conducts regular trainings on recognizing elder abuse.

“Neighbors can help. If they notice people being over at a senior’s house more than normal or have a hint of someone being taking advantage of, they should call. People can remain anonymous,” she said. “Bank tellers make good reporters. If they see a senior come in with a younger person and suddenly withdraw much more than they normally do, they can call. I might not be able to do anything about it, but I can at least talk with the senior.”

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