Older adults are a vital part of Colorado’s communities. Their lifetimes of experience, knowledge, and wisdom are assets to our state. The number of Coloradans aged 65 and over is projected to rise by 1 million, an increase of 133 percent, by 2050. Contrary to conventional thinking, these demographics do not spell certain disaster. Rather, they offer Colorado an opportunity to ensure it remains a great place where all Coloradans, regardless of age, can thrive.
Living and aging well can mean many different things, depending on the diversity of individuals and communities, but many agree it is the state of being surrounded by people they value, in a community where they belong, and with opportunities to make meaningful contributions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”
The NorthWest Colorado Center for Independence (NWCCI) works with people to achieve their goals for living well in more inclusive and healthy communities. Mary Housley, Independent Living Coordinator for NWCCI said, “We strive to foster communities where natural supports can supplant the need for institutional care and minimize reliance on service providers.”
As we age, we undergo changes that can affect our daily lives, our habits, even our communication skills and interactions with others. Sometimes, elderly individuals get confused and frustrated, especially in stressful situations. Understanding that behavioral pattern is not always easy to recognize without special training and awareness.
In September of 2017 a (70+) elderly citizen, and second home owner of Grand County, was involved in an altercation with a tenant of a nearby rental property, a property she owned. According to the woman, she was trying to evict her tenant for a number of reasons including theft of property and services when the discussion escalated into, what she stated to authorities, an “act of abuse”. When the incident was reported to local law enforcement agencies, responding officers dismissed her claims, and, upon further investigation by Grand County detective Leo Piechocki, and, District Attorney Brett Barkey, it was determined there was not enough evidence to move forward.
The alleged victim has spent the last five months trying to find resolution and support from any official willing to look into the case and take her seriously. She said, “I don’t want this to happen to anyone again”, stating, “authorities made me feel like I was the criminal.”
Colorado’s laws establishing Mandatory Reporting of Abuse and Exploitation of At-Risk Elders became effective July, 2014. The U.S. Administration on Aging defines elder abuse as “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver, or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.” All 50 states have passed laws defining elder abuse and seeking to prevent cases of elder abuse in their jurisdiction. With each state defining abuse differently, it is the Administrations advice to know how your state defines elder abuse and train your front line, first responders and agencies on how to deal with “At Risk Elders”.
Mary Housley, who was aware of this particular case, said, “One of our roles at NWCCI is to work with individuals and existing service providers to bridge the gap in services and communication.” She added, “we have some great service providers in Grand County and this incident moved our County Manager to schedule a workshop to discuss the needs and aspects of our aging population.”
The Workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17th, at 1:30pm, in the Grand County Commissioner’s Chamber. All county commissioner meetings are open to the public and this discussion should shed light on gaps in service and oversight.
NWCCI offers free services to seniors and people with disabilities who would like to identify and accomplish their goals through an Independent Living Plan. The NWCCI staff work with, not for, people, to establish objectives and develop actionable tasks, duties, and responsibilities. It is vital that the individual chooses and directs their services in this process. The process includes bringing together family, friends, advocates and service providers with clear roles in supporting the individual in the implementation of their plan. Housley said, “Serving in this role has earned us trusted relationship with both our consumers and professionals with whom we work in the community.”