Column: Keeping older adults safeThere are two statistics in St Louis County that I want to tell you about. The first one may not be a surprise: we have an aging population.
By: Ann Busche, For the Budgeteer News
There are two statistics in St Louis County that I want to tell you about.
The first one may not be a surprise: we have an aging population. We have 16 percent of our population over the age of 65, which is higher than the state average of 13 percent.
The second statistic also may not be a surprise: more of these older residents are living alone. This follows the national trend. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of single-person households was about 14 percent in 1960 and had doubled to about 28 percent in 2011.
In St. Louis County, we are over this national average, coming in at over 31 percent. The city of Duluth has almost 35 percent single-person households and the city of Virginia is at almost 43 percent.
In addition, the Census Bureau notes that of all the single-person households, those over 65 make up 45 percent.
So, what’s the takeaway message from all these numbers? We have more people over the age of 65 living alone in our community, and while some are perfectly safe, happy and healthy, others may not be living in the safest environment.
The next logical question may be, what do we do about those who may be at risk or vulnerable?
Here’s where it gets tricky. If family or friends feel the older adult is at risk, social workers and public health nurses can assess the situation and offer suggestions or services; but if the person is an adult who is capable of making their own decisions, they can say no.
And yes, this can get pretty frustrating for family members who believe their loved one would be better in a different living situation.
And yes, the loved one may indeed be better in a different living situation, but again, as a competent adult, they can make decisions on how and where to live and would have to voluntarily agree to changes.
The Court is the only entity that can make the determination if the
person is competent to make decisions and, if not, appoint a guardian. Guardian appointments can be temporary or permanent; the guardian then makes decisions for the individual regarding different living situation or services.
We certainly want to protect our vulnerable adults, and there are very specific legal definitions of a vulnerable adult.
The first is “categorical” vulnerable adult, meaning an individual over the age of 18 who is a resident or inpatient of a facility regulated by the State of Minnesota. For example, someone living in a nursing home is a vulnerable adult.
The second is a “functional” vulnerable adult who has an impairment or disability that makes them unable to meet basic needs without assistance. Basic needs include things like food, shelter, clothing, and health care. An adult is also considered vulnerable if they have an impaired ability to protect themselves from maltreatment.
As you might imagine, it can sometimes be challenging to fully determine if someone is capable of making their own decisions, especially if you or I may not agree with those decisions, or if they have an impairment that does not allow them to provide for their basic needs.
That’s where our Adult Protection team at Public Health and Human Services can help.
If you go to the county’s website, www.stlouiscountymn.
gov, and click on the header “I Want To” you will see a section on reporting adult abuse and neglect. That link will provide more detail on the definitions of vulnerable adults and what constitutes abuse and neglect, including financial exploitation.
It also lists the number to call, 726-2164, to connect with our adult protection service.
Ann Busche is the director of Public Health and Human Services for St. Louis County. Contact her at 726-2096 or email: email@example.com