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For Caregivers: When to Contact Protective Services?

by: Margie Johnson Ware, Aging and Health Specialist

A caregiver can be a challenging responsibility, especially if they are not living in the same home as the individuals receiving care (most often a parent or an older relative). As people age, situations and choices might occur that are not typical of their past behavior patterns. Their home may deteriorate or become unsanitary, people they would have been wary of in the past may become too close, they can isolate and refuse communication or act in ways that are dangerous or irresponsible.

Someone aging into this state of vulnerability may not realize it, and if the caregiver is not in the same home day-to-day, deterioration and risky living/behavior may become a shocking realization. At some point, it could be decided that action has to be taken to protect the health and wellness of an aging adult. Often the best resource is the local Adult Protect Service (APS) agency. APS are social services provided to abused, neglected or exploited older adults, as well as adults of all ages with significant disabilities (in most states).

Considering when to contact APS is an important decision. There are three aspects to carefully think through before making the call:

  1. Competent older adults are entitled to their own decisions. If those decisions are made from a place of reasoning (even if some may disagree), it does not necessitate the involvement of APS. A discussion, visit or thoughtful evaluation of the situation may provide more insight to better assess the situation.

  2. A report to APS does not include a report back of findings or an outcome. A visit with the aging adult is the best way to fully assess both the problem and the solution.

  3. There are intermediate steps to take before calling protective services. This may include contacting nearby friends, neighbors or relatives. If they participate with organizations or are part of a faith-based community, a person may be able to provide the insight needed to understand the situation. There are an array of agencies and organizations in every community that offer family and caregiver support services that are resources for caregivers who are not living with senior who may be at risk. Consult the Family Caregiver Alliance which has a Family Care Navigator for community help.

Many times, a strong Adult Protective Services team is often the best possible step, especially with issues of health and safety. Adult Protective Services teams work hand in hand with other public agencies to offer targeted, multi-step solutions to complicated problems. These can be painful, complicated and heartbreaking situations that can take a toll on all who are involved. There are rarely “the right” answers. But know that whatever the concern, professionals are familiar with a multitude of situations and problems and are in place to help.

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Age Well Planner is an educational website created by nonprofit the National Council on Aging (NCOA). We provide information, resources, and referrals on topics such as: Benefits, Income, and Medicare.

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