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Home > Research Articles > Locator helps ease worry about elderly

nj.com

Monday, January 06, 2003

Monday, January 06, 2003

By JOE CARLSON

The Express-Times

It's a scenario that likely played out in dozens of homes across the region this holiday season: grown children come home for Christmas cheer, only to discover an aging relative is worse off than they had thought.

Maybe dad has stopped taking his prescriptions. Maybe mom has lost weight because she refuses to eat. Maybe Aunt Selma refuses to leave the house or return calls. Maybe an uncle has started drinking his after-work cocktails at noon, now that he's retired.It's a scenario that likely played out in dozens of homes across the region this holiday season: grown children come home for Christmas cheer, only to discover an aging relative is worse off than they had thought.

Whatever the scenario, relatives often discover it at family gatherings and ruminate about it over the next few weeks.

That pattern is one of the reasons Eldercare Locator, a free federal information bank that helps people locate local services for the elderly, experiences a 25 percent spike in call volume in January.

"It's because people are home over the holidays. It's at that point that they see something is failing, something is slipping. But oftentimes they don't know where to go," said Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging in Washington, D.C.

This year, the association is promoting the phone number and Web site of the Eldercare Locator as a centralized place to find solutions to common problems.

The locator gets a great deal of use in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the eight other states that the association calls "senior care hot zones." The 10 states comprise 62 percent of the calls.

"To successfully age, people need to plan for their own aging, but families also need to communicate," Markwood said. "There's a lot of options. We're here to help you explore them."

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, senior services are delivered at the county level. But often, people aren't aware of what's available, especially if they are concerned family members who live in other states.

Many times, a single crisis provokes a call to the nursing home, when there are often less extreme and more appropriate services available. Local aging agencies, for example, can often have meals delivered or send volunteers for regular checkups.

John Mehler, the director of the Northampton County Area Agency on Aging, said his office has already received calls this season from relatives looking for information about services available to loved ones.

"They may say, 'There's a problem here. I don't quite know what to do about it, but there's a problem here,'" Mehler said.

Bill Stover, coordinator of outpatient services for the Family Guidance Center of Warren County, said communicating with the relative is the only way to find the right balance of options.

"It's a difficult balance to walk, because you want to encourage them to be independent, but you don't want them to be vulnerable," Stover said.

To find out what services are available for seniors in your area, call the toll-free hotline at 800-677-1116 or go to the U.S. Administration on Aging Web site, eldercare.gov.

For a complete list of nursing homes in your area call 800-MEDICARE or go to medicare.gov/NHCompare/Home.asp. The Web site contains ratings of each home and the results of regular inspections as well as links to similar Web pages.

Reporter Joe Carlson can be reached by e-mail at jcarlson@express-times.com.