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Let’s Talk About It: Look, listen, double-check to detect neglect

We read stories about neglect of seniors, be it at home or in public or private residential care. It’s an unfortunate, global reality, but some of these sad situations could be prevented if families were able to have a stronger presence in the residence and be more vigilant in “supervising” the care provided.

I have had concerned family members consider placing a nanny-cam-style hidden camera in the person’s living space. Often private care is hired on top of the care that is being paid for.

Residences must have government accreditation, but this is not a guarantee that neglect will not occur. Neglect comes in different forms and there are not enough government standards to ensure the safety and dignity of a senior needing daily care and supervision.

It’s important to keep in mind that the words neglect and abuse do not only refer to what someone might be doing to your loved one—it may also refer to what is not being done.

There are obvious physical signs to look out for: sudden weight loss, unusual disorientation or confusion, bruising or marking on the body, bedsores that are not attended to, and more. The less obvious signs are toenails that have not been cut, clothes that are not washed regularly, linens that are not clean, dirty clothes in drawers, and disturbing smells in the room or on the person. Neglect can occur if care residences are not vigilant about hygiene or the general health of the resident.

Urinary tract infections are a common occurrence among seniors, and if not caught and treated on time could have serious consequences. The first clue is often a change in the person’s behaviour. Tests are simple and quick and can be often done in a residence. A quick test by a family member would be to accompany the person to the bathroom when they urinate and if a stronger than usual odour is detected, request a test for a UTI.

I would hope that residences work with qualified and involved geriatric physicians and the nursing staff will report to the doctor any suspicious changes in the person’s personality, eating or sleeping patterns. Those affected by dementia need close supervision since most will not be able to express what they are feeling. They may be experiencing pain.

I encourage family and friends to spend time in residences and observe the interaction of staff and residents. Is staff preoccupied with cleaning and household chores or are they spending time with residents? Are residents spoken to in a respectful manner or are they ignored or spoken to in an impatient or degrading tone? Is the resident usually sleeping when you arrive?

It is a good idea to perform a body check every so often to ensure that your loved one does not have any suspicious skin irritations. One of my clients in a small private home, who was receiving full care including hygiene and showering, had to have a toenail surgically removed since it was not cut regularly and had grown into the skin.

If a senior falls and is unable to get up on their own, they should not be moved. 911 should be called immediately and the emergency contact person right after so that the senior is not put in an ambulance alone, frightened and in pain.

I would like to see more communication between the residence and family members. Log books should be recorded in daily with free access to family members. Don’t shy away from asking too many questions. Your actions should not be seen as bothersome or be ignored. If you have serious concerns, you should report them to the local CLSC. There has to be more transparency and accountability, and accreditation of private residences need to have stricter guidelines in terms of staffing, stimulation and medical involvement.

Mine the knowledge of our columnists

The Senior Times will host an information session with columnists
Bonnie Sandler, Joyce Blond Frank and Deborah Leahy on October 4 from 1 to 3 pm at the offices of the newspaper, 4077 Décarie.
Those who wish to meet with them should make an appointment by calling 514-484-5033 or emailing editor@theseniortimes.com with Consultation in the subject. Individual, 15-minute consultations will be provided.

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