As Senior Population Booms, Worries of Neglect
Last year, almost 30,000 elderly Texans were found to be victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation. But in most cases it was neglect. The growth of Central Texas’ elder population may mean more and more of these cases in the future.
“I been here four months – I can’t keep making excuses,” said Kathleen Thomas, who is still getting settled into her modest room at the Monte Siesta Nursing Home in South Austin.
“I want be able to feel like that I can be happy and be able to feel like I’m at home around here,” Thomas said. “I’m still having a hard time with adjustments and stuff.”
It has been a big adjustment for the 62-year-old. Four months ago, Thomas was living in an apartment on her own. Then she got sick. It got hard to take care of herself and her house.
A nonprofit worker who was helping Kathleen keep up with her bills got worried.
“Come up there and he said it nearly knocked him out or something, cause he said it was in bad shape,” Thomas said.
That’s when Adult Protective Services got involved.
“When I got there, it took her a while to come to the door,” said APS caseworker Linda Wright. “She did let me in, gratefully. But she was very weak and complained of chest pain.”
So they sent Thomas to the hospital. But she can still make decisions for herself. In this case, she decided to move to Monte Siesta.
It’s not always that easy to convince someone to leave their home, even when it’s dangerous for them to stay.
“I decided I want to go somewhere where it’ll be neat and clean and more healthier for me,” Thomas said. “So here I am.”
In the world of Adult Protective Services, Thomas is a victim of what’s called self-neglect. Her living conditions at home and her ability to care for herself were declining. Wright sees it happen a lot.
“The economy is so bad. You know, a lot of people don’t have the resources that they need,” she said. “Unfortunately, we get cases where there are alleged perpetrators and they’re spending their elderly parents’ money, so they don’t have the means to make ends meet.”
So far this fiscal year, the number of victims of abuse and neglect and Travis County is outpacing the same period last year. That may be because the elder population in the area is growing rapidly.
Between 2000 and 2010, the area’s population of people over 65 grew by more than half. So-called pre-seniors, people 55 to 64, more than doubled. But services for those growing populations aren’t keeping up.
“When you look out at the field of services that exist today, we are underserved,” said Ryan Robinson, the city of Austin’s demographer. “And I think that we’re going to have to play catch-up. Not just from the standpoint of the total overall growth of seniors, but that we’re going to have a far more socioeconomically diverse set of seniors — meaning we’re going to have more poor seniors.”
In the meantime, state officials are reminding people to look out for elderly neighbors who may need help.
“The bottom line is it’s a societal problem,” Wright said. “It’s not ‘OK, this is APS’ problem, what are you going to do?’ It’s all of our problem. We all need to work together in a collaborative effort to address these vulnerable people, because we’re going to start seeing more and more of them.”