The population of senior citizen is well over 50 million people. This is a dramatic number. When you consider the percentage of those adults that are or are at risk of becoming a vulnerable adult, however, it is staggering. Knowing that there are so many of our population that fall into that category can be disheartening, especially if you work in senior care or are in any way associated with the social security, Medicare or other systems that are set up to help aging citizens in our country.
Legaldictionary.com defines a vulnerable adult. “as a person aged 16 or over whose ability to protect himself from violence, abuse or neglect is significantly impaired through physical or mental disability or illness, through old age or otherwise. “
With the increasing aged population, it follows suit that there are more vulnerable adults that need our protection. But how do we identify someone who might need our help and offer help that will be beneficial to them and not detrimental?
- Do a basic cognitive check. Find out if they know who they are, where they are and whether they seem alert and oriented in their environment. If not, they are most likely in a vulnerable state and need medical care, no matter their age. This mental state can come about because of an injury or illness or it may have always been like this. Whatever the cause, this person would be identified as a vulnerable adult because they’re not able to make decisions for themselves if they do not understand who they are or where they are. Also check to see if they are on any medications that alter their mental state or if their blood sugars might be off, as this can cause temporary altered mental status. If you suspect chemical dependencies on prescription drugs, alcohol or other drugs, it is also important to have them evaluated to see if it is impairing their ability to make decisions.
- If they are alert and oriented to their surrounding and seem cognitively aware, begin observing their physical health. Are they able to move about freely without falling? Do they seem full of anxiety in any situations to the point that they seem afraid to be alone? Are they recovering from any type of illness or surgery that would require extra care until they can be evaluated by a physician again? Are they eating adequately? There are a multitude of physical situations which may temporarily or permanently render a person vulnerable.
- Emotional attachments or co-dependency. Sometimes these issues are a bit more difficult to untangle, but they’re important to face, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable they might be. In some circumstances, vulnerable adults will be in the care of, or be heavily influenced by someone who does not have their best interest at heart. If you suspect that this is happening, speak with them in private, if possible, about whether they feel safe. If they do not, law enforcement might need to get involved in order to get them to a safe place. If they do feel safe, but feel tremendous pressure, or find themselves unable to say “no” to someone asking them for financial assistance or other things, you may need to help them find a solution to the problem. In some cases, it requires a family intervention to let the person who is taking advantage of the adult know that others are supporting the person and will no longer be able to continue in that behavior. It is highly recommended that if you have an intervention of this kind, that there is a counselor there with you to mediate the conversation so that people are free to speak their minds and that a definite conclusion can be reached that will benefit the vulnerable adult and give them freedom from oppression.
Identifying and helping vulnerable adults is incredibly difficult. You must deal with the initial problem, but it may also involve finding different housing, elder care, dealing with financial problems, addictions and even years of family dysfunction. It is not for the faint-hearted to be involved and stand to protect those who are vulnerable. In extreme cases, it may require legal help. But if you can help that person, you will have done what no one else has been willing to do up to this point, you will have protected and covered the vulnerable from the blows of a heartless world. You will have given them a safe place to live out their days without fear. In the end, that carries its own reward.