Elderly need more of us to be a bit more neighborly
By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published February 20, 2007
George Fernandez doesn't get out as much since he blacked out, hit a truck and wrecked his car in 2001. That was nature telling him it was time to turn in the keys.
A niece takes him to the barber every few months. Three days a week, Linda Seagle, a home health aide, visits him in Holiday. She does his laundry, checks the food in the refrigerator, does some light cleaning. She mostly runs errands to the bank and to Rudy's, the Mexican restaurant whose food Fernandez craves.
Fernandez has been living alone since Vaughn, his wife of more than 40 years, died in 1987. He turned 100 in December and doesn't ever see himself moving into a nursing home or assisted living facility.
"I intend to kick the bucket right here," Fernandez said with traces of the Spanish accent he brought from his native Mexico in 1925.
Fernandez is one of those seniors who treasure their independence above all else. A few years ago a relative realized that Fernandez needed help and called the senior help line, which referred him to senior agency CARES Inc. Soon afterward, an aide showed up to help him do things around the house.
Fernandez welcomed the help and the company. The trouble is, some seniors don't know when it's time to ask for and accept help.
We hear the stories of the elderly people who are being neglected or mistreated by relatives. But a growing number of seniors who can no longer care for themselves are suffering in silence, out of sight.
Of the more than 100 cases reported to the Adult Protection Services in Pasco each month, about 25 percent - the biggest single category - involve people who just can't care for themselves. These are usually single or widowed elderly men and women, but sometimes it involves couples. They fall behind on the expenses, the garbage piles up, the house smells or is in a state of disrepair. The problem persists until someone calls a senior hotline to complain.
This trend says more about who we are than we care to admit. In the old days, neighbors looked out for each other and extended family lived nearby. But retirees lose some of that safety net when they come to Florida.
Many are folks who retired to Florida 30 years ago, bought modest houses on their modest pensions. Now they're in their 80s and 90s and they're still trying to make the best of it on limited resources.
These are proud people who aren't always comfortable asking for help. But they need just a little help to stay in their homes safely and independently.
Right now, we have a patchwork of government and private social services agencies to step in. But there are twice as many people waiting for help as those getting services, said Bill Aycrigg, head of CARES Inc., the nonprofit agency providing custodial home care services for seniors in Pasco County. Others need the service but refuse it, Aycrigg said. Unfortunately, if people want to live in a decrepit house, they can do so. That's the way the system works.
Thankfully, many like Fernandez don't need much persuading. His helper, Seagle, gets in around noon. During a recent visit, she spent most of the time talking to Fernandez and doing his laundry. There's not much cleaning to do. The house is neat; everything is in its place.
And that includes his wife's room. It's just as she left it 20 years ago. The perfume bottles are still on the dresser; her sewing machine is on the side. It's still home. And with a little help, he plans to keep it that way. Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified February 20, 2007, 06:07:54]
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