can provide safety for elderly
By Marianne Mills
Alaska – In
Juneau, Alaska, a police officer conducted a welfare check on an elderly
woman when a neighbor notified him that her water was about to be shut off
due to lack of payment. He discovered Sarah, age 84, weak, malnourished
and disoriented, living in a home that hadn't been cleaned for months. The
policeman contacted Southeast Senior Services (SESS) looking for
assistance. The SESS care coordinator went to Sarah's home, provided a
comprehensive evaluation of her situation, and made the necessary
contacts. After a brief hospitalization due to dehydration, Sarah returned
coordinator got to know Sarah, arranged to have Sarah's home cleaned,
assisted with paying back bills, and lined up other services for Sarah.
Now Sarah can safely remain in her own home. The care coordinator will
check on her regularly to see how she's doing, serve as her advocate and
arrange any other services needed.
The neighbor and
police officer may have saved Sarah's life. Without knowing it, they
served as gatekeepers, noticing an elder in need and calling senior
services for help. Gatekeepers include employees of businesses, utility
companies, and government agencies who have contact with the most isolated
elderly in the regular course of their work day. A postal carrier notices
mail accumulating in the mailbox of an elderly man who lives alone. The
newspaper carrier notices newspapers piling up at an elder's home and when
he knocks at the door, no one answers. The bank teller notices an elder's
bank account building up and none of his bills being paid. They are all
"Juneau is a
very caring, responsive community," said Janet Lumiansky, care
coordination supervisor for Southeast Senior Services. "People just
need to know who to refer to when they have concerns."
In response to the
growing number of queries from Juneau citizens about elders at risk,
Southeast Senior Services has begun the Gatekeeper Program. Juneau's
Gatekeeper Program is based on a model developed in Spokane, Wash., in
1978 - time-proven to save elders' lives.
The role of the
gatekeeper is to look for clues or red flags that may indicate that the
older person is in trouble or potentially at risk. The most common
indications involve personal appearance, conditions of the home, the
person's mental or emotional state, physical losses, personality changes,
economic problems and isolation. Since one in three older Americans lives
alone without nearby family members and many are reluctant or unable to
seek help, it's up to community members to find them. With the help of
gatekeepers, older persons who have fallen through the cracks will receive
the assistance they need to safely live in their homes for as long as
All employers are
invited to participate in the Gatekeeper Program, which trains employees
to identify problems that signify an elder may be in trouble. They also
learn how to respond and who to contact to get the help the elder needs.
Respect for the elder and confidentiality are two of the most important
values of the Gatekeeper Program.
Serving as a gatekeeper establishes good public relations and is a personally rewarding experience. The Gatekeeper Program gives Juneau citizens a chance to show senior citizens that we really care about them and are there to support them.