By Jean Lotus
West Suburban Senior Services, an agency that provides free support for seniors in Forest Park and Proviso Township has once again opened up its offices at 8300 Roosevelt Road in Forest Park.
On Jan. 10, about 50 guests from the social services world and local police departments attended an open house in the afternoon at the building next to the Des Plaines River with the multi-peaked roof.
"The building used to be a pancake restaurant," said Director Janet Ogle. Now it is newly remodeled and senior programming is restarting.
Caring for an elderly or disabled relative can be draining and stressful, said Ogle. The WSSS free support groups give caretakers a break and a chance to commiserate with others in their situation.
"Sometimes they feel guilty," said Caregiver Specialist Fernanda Unger. "They think, how come I am having fun and my loved one is in bed?" Unger said taking care of a family member can have many rewarding opportunities, but "it brings a lot of stress."
Paid for with grants from AgeOptions, caregivers can hook into services that can give them help. These include home chore services and temporary "respite" services, where a substitute caregiver can be provided, or the dependent family member can be placed in a nursing facility for a short time.
Caregivers participating in the program also share ideas with other people in their situation. "They can become so isolated," said Unger. "They come and give advice and encourage each other."
The other support group meeting at the location is for older adults raising children. The group is called "Relatives Raising Children" and meets three times monthly, once in the evening. Dinner and child care are provided at the evening meetings, the third Tuesday of the month.
Unger said seniors who are raising children face a lot of challenges. Unger said financial stress is common for grandparents raising their grandchildren. "They are always worried about finances because sometimes they don't have a job."
"Sometimes these caregivers have health problems themselves," said Ogle, a social worker.
Supported by the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission, the Geriatric Mental Health Program provides therapists for free counseling either at the center or at the home of the patient.
Ogle said WSSS gives help to seniors who may be suffering from anxiety, depression, grief, substance abuse or dementia/Alzheimer's Disease.
"We deal with hoarding and depressive behavior, for example," she said. "Sometimes that shows up as a failure to maintain personal hygiene.
"No one calls us and says, 'I'm a hoarder and I self-neglect.'"
Ogle said she gets referrals from medical caregivers and family members as well as the seniors themselves. Trust is very important and developing a relationship with the clients who use the free services.
"We try to couch our services as here's someone who wants to give you extra help and support."
Elder Abuse Forensic Center
Also in the WSSS offices is the new Elder Abuse Forensic Center, sponsored by a grant from Westlake Health Foundation.
Director Tara Pink said the center is in a two-year schedule to build a resource for the investigation and prosecution of elder abuse, which she compares to "child abuse and domestic abuse 20 years ago."
Based on similar centers in California, the idea behind the forensic center is to provide resources for law enforcement, medical professionals and the state.
"There are very specific people who are experts in elder abuse law and financial embezzlement and they are volunteering their resources. The center will be a clearinghouse for them," Pink said.
Elder abuse can include infliction of injuries, sexual abuse or willful deprivation of food, medical care, shelter or necessary assistance. It can also be defined as emotional abuse via threat or intimidation, withholding or misappropriating an older adult's funds or passive neglect.
Pink said the center will provide workshops for police departments to recognize signs of elder abuse and how to go about investigations that can lead to prosecution.
"Elder abuse is rampant and usually un-prosecuted," Pink said.
The center provides some emergency numbers to call if you suspect elder abuse.
The Elder Abuse Hotline (24 hour access) is: 1-866-800-1409.
For suspicion of abuse in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes or rehab facilities, call the Illinois Long Term Care Ombudsman at 888-401-8200.
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